Common freshman read comes to life for Newman students

Nov 29, 2018
freshman class at ritchie house

Each year, the Newman University Traditions and Transitions (T&T) freshman class participates in a “common reading” the summer before their semester begins.

This year’s book, “The Immortal 10: A Story from the Kansas Underground Railroad” by Gary Jenkins, tells the tale of 10 brave individuals who helped shape the history of Kansas. It provided a unique opportunity for the freshman class to actually experience the book’s topic in person.

Nearly 200 students plus faculty and staff participated in a freshman class field trip to Topeka, Kansas, on Nov. 8 to tour the state capitol and learn more about the topics of civil rights and the Underground Railroad.

Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs Rosemary Niedens said one goal was to give students the opportunity to learn more about Kansas history, particularly in regards to the Underground Railroad.

“The goal for the trip was to allow students to gain a greater understanding and empathy for those who were seeking freedom,” Niedens added.

One of the stops during the trip was the Ritchie House, which was built by abolitionists John and Mary Jane Ritchie in 1856 and was a station along the Underground Railroad.

“The Ritchie House was the key location for the Topeka field trip,” explained Niedens. “At the house, students could see for themselves the location where slaves were hidden for safety on the Underground Railroad. It allowed the students to see the conditions in which runaways were smuggled, to stand where those individuals stood 150 years ago.”

Freshman Dominica Johnson said visiting the Ritchie House ended up being one of her favorite parts of the trip.

“After reading the book,” she said, “I expected just to see an old building with nothing in it. The house was actually very stable and had many artifacts in it. When the tour guide was telling the story of the people who lived there I closed my eyes. I tried to imagine what they looked like, what they felt and what they experienced.”

Student Julia Myers said she was intrigued by the Underground Railroad house.

“I kind of expected it to be some kind of elaborate scheme where they had secret passageways and tunnels,” said Myers. “I was surprised by how simple it was. It was crazy to think about how just over 150 years ago this kind of stuff was going down in our own backyard.

“I found it fascinating how both in the book and in the tours these abolitionists literally uprooted their families and their comfortable lives back east to fight for a cause they believed in,” she added. “I think that takes a lot of courage and gusto. They were all in — and that is something really inspiring to me.”