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2007-2008 Common Experience
The Water Planet: A River Runs Through Us

As a theme for the Common Experience, the subject of water has particular relevance for our university. The unique, spring-fed San Marcos River that runs through campus is a constant visual reminder of the many dimensions and roles that water plays in our lives. The nexus of the Common Experience parallels this literal flow: it fosters students’ confluent thinking where discovery in one area will lead them to a discovery in another. The network of rivers connecting the San Marcos River to the rest of the world can be explored as both subject and metaphor for connecting students’ personal sensibilities to the world around them. Our university community, as well, is intertwined with relationships which are themselves nurtured by our special sense of place “on the river.” Exposing students to the central role and function of rivers on our “water planet” can help nurture a sense of moral responsibility, beginning with the very river coursing through Texas State. “The life goods we receive are not solely from human sources. We rely on water for our life…and reciprocity is a recipient’s virtue. Reciprocity…is in a class of virtues that expands our moral vision beyond the human” (Gerber, "The Nature of Water" 47). Not only should Texas State, "The Rising Star of Texas,” be a good practical steward of the river shimmering at our doorstep, but we should also teach our students to fully recognize and cherish this irreplaceable resource.

Any exploration of water reflects the journey of human experience: civilization’s voyage of discovery into a vast unknown, seeking understanding, knowledge, and sustenance. Powerful and mysterious, water engages us with its ever shifting abundance and gloriously flowing rhythms of turbulence and steady quiet. By its very nature, water sustains life’s sacred balance, flowing within us and around us, at once reciprocal and inextricable. Narrating a dynamic, yet cautionary tale about the history of civilization on earth, water tells the story of life on our planet.

The necessity for water suffuses all cultural and linguistic boundaries. As human beings, we are in constant relationship with water. Its source quasi-invisible, water has an innominate, ubiquitous presence in most of our lives. We take it for granted as water continues to flow in our bodies, our rivers, and streams while gushing unrestrictedly from the tap. This is a deceptive abundance, however, challenged by both privileged access and unrelenting demand. 97% of the earth’s water is in our oceans whereas only 3% is fresh water, two-thirds of which is trapped in polar ice. All inhabitants on earth – human, animals, plants - share less than 1% of our available earthly water supply. This tiny percent of the world’s fresh water, freely flowing through rivers, streams, and subterranean aquifers, is, quite vitally, our “common experience.”

Since mid-century, the world’s population has doubled and our water use has tripled. Our freshwater systems and riverways are losing their ability to support human, animal, and plant life. Population growth, urban density, industrial development, climatic fluctuation, pollution, and waste continue to tax the limits and resilience of our available water supply. All members of the global community are charged with the care and maintenance of this natural resource. We cannot afford to be bystanders – the gift of water will exact a grave price for inattentiveness.

Water is certainly a salient focus in science, engineering, law, history, anthropology, economics, political science, and international relations. Yet our creative imagination is equally compelled by water’s beauty and allure. This wonderment unfolds into aesthetic expression in art, music, poetry, literature, religious rite, and cultural ritual, all awash in the world of ideas. The spell of the sea continues to enchant generations of thinkers, dreamers, and wanderers. Artists transform water, rain, and the river’s flow into transcendent themes and symbols, those fluid metaphors for spiritual cleansing that restore a damaged heart and quench the thirsty soul.

Clearly streaming through so many realms, a Common Experience theme on water can galvanize interdisciplinary conversation, cultivate learning and introspection, and inspire a collective stewardship of this most precious global gift within our university family.

— from the Common Experience theme proposal
by Michael Abbott, Ron Coley, Hector Flores,
Michael Huston, Jim Kimmel, and Susan Romanella

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