Learning Resource Center

Common Read 2012 & 2013

Outcasts United: An American Town, a Refugee Team, and One Woman's Quest to Make a Difference by Warren St. John

The book is the story of the Fugees, a youth soccer team comprised Outcasts Unitedentirely of refugee children. A "brilliantly reported, moving chronicle of a small town struggling to become a global community, the resilience and hope of a group of young refugees, and how we find home in a changing world" (Random House, Inc., Lesson Plans. p.2).

The book was the primary focus for Academic Day of Welcome Week -- a day dedicated to establishing a common academic experience for everyone involved in orientation. 


What is a Common Reading? ~ show information

Common reading initiatives are widespread and considered a best practice in First-Year Experience programming. Generally the purpose is "to provide a common academic experience for all first-year students to strengthen the academic atmosphere of the institution from the first day the student arrives on campus" (Patterson, 2002, p.8). A common reading is an opportunity to "intellectualize" orientation through a shared experience of all first-year students and with participating faculty. It enhances academic transition by providing a base from which students can engage with faculty in conversations about what is expected in college-level academic work, what constitutes scholarly behavior, and what the campus community considers important.

During Welcome Week, the Academic Day keynote presentation and orientation group discussion will be dedicated to beginning a conversation about the themes found within the Common Reading, Outcasts United. The author, Warren St. John, will present at Academic Day and discuss the story, its origins, and the concepts found throughout the book: identity, cultural pluralism and human rights. After the presentation, faculty will lead the orientation groups in discussion about the book.

From: Patterson, L. (2002). New ideas in first-year reading programs from around the country. First-Year Experience Newsletter (FYE), 14(3), 8-9.

Past books have included:

Farm City: The Education of an Urban FarmerFarm City Cover (Welcome Week 2011)

Novella Carpenter is determined to have both the city and a homegrown vegetable plot at the same time. After she and her boyfriend move to the inner city of Oakland, California, they begin creating their dream urban farm.

The couple first begins by planting vegetables in the abandoned lot next door to their duplex. Next, they bring in egg-laying chickens, bees, turkeys, geese, and ducks. Eventually rabbits and a couple of 300-pound pigs are also added to the urban farm. And this isn't some kind of urban petting zoo: Novella is raising these animals to become her dinner.

In this story, Novella recounts the challenges, joys, and hilariousness of running an urban farm. She writes about her inner-city neighborhood and reveals how a community can come together and the impact of food availability has on the health of people as well as communities.  The book helps us understand more about the many resources we all have available to us, and dispenses a few farming tips along the way. Finally, the story helps us all think about our passions and the struggles and triumphs that sometimes come along with following those dreams.

A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future (Welcome Week 2010)

A Whole New Mind Cover

  • New York Times bestseller
  • BusinessWeek bestseller
  • Wall Street Journal bestseller
  • Washington Post bestseller

Lawyers. Accountants. Computer programmers. That's what our parents encouraged us to become when we grew up. But Mom and Dad were wrong. The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind. The era of "left brain" dominance, and the Information Age that it engendered, are giving way to a new world in which "right brain" qualities-inventiveness, empathy, meaning-predominate. That's the argument at the center of this provocative and original book, which uses the two sides of our brains as a metaphor for understanding the contours of our times.

In this insightful and entertaining book, which has been translated into 20 languages, Daniel H. Pink offers a fresh look at what it takes to excel. A Whole New Mind reveals the six essential aptitudes on which professional success and personal fulfillment now depend, and includes a series of hands-on exercises culled from experts around the world to help readers sharpen the necessary abilities. This book changes not only how we see the world but how we experience it as well.


About the Book ~ show information

Outcases UnitedOriginally a series in The New York Times, the book is a story of multiple aspects: refugees, small-town struggles, Southern attitudes, individual determination and cross-cultural (mis)understanding.  All of these elements come together in a jubilant tale of a soccer team and its season that challenged and changed a community forever.

Outcasts United captures the efforts of a town "struggling to become a global community, the resilience and hope of a group of young refugees, and how we find home in a changing world."  Its story will resonate as you consider yourself and your experiences in this increasingly global community, and how you will become part of your newest community -- Butler University.

What critics are saying:

"A brilliant and empathetic depiction of our common quest for meaning and happiness.  Warren St. John invites us into the lives of a community of refugees, their bewildered neighbors in a small town, and a Jordanian woman who not only coaches but also mentors, mothers, and inspires some remarkable boys, to create a heartwarming tale about the transformations that occur when our disparate lives connect."  ~Ishmael Beah, author of A Long Way Gone

"Not merely about soccer, St. John's book teaches readers about the social and economic difficulties of adapting to a new culture and the challenges facing a town with a new and disparate population.  Despite their cultural and religious differences and the difficulty of adaptation, the Fugees came together to play soccer.  This wonderful, poignant book is highly recommended...."  ~Library Journal, starred review

"Splendidly reported...compelling from start to finish."  ~Time Out New York

"[Mufleh's] energy and her achievement, as chronicled by Warren St. John, are inspiring."  ~Boston Sunday Globe

"Remarkable...a marvelous story, all the more moving for being written straight by a talented reporter."  ~The Times (London)

About the Author ~ show information

Warren St JohnWarren St. John is a feature writer for The New York Times and best-selling author of Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer: A Road Trip into the Heart of Fan Mania (2004).  His second book, Outcasts United, was released to rave reviews in 2009.  St. John has written for the New Yorker, Slate, Wired and the New York Observer, in addition to his work in The New York Times.  His research for Outcasts United led to an acclaimed series of front page stories in The New York Times about the Fugees and the struggle of Clarkston, Georgia to adapt to its new identity.

St. John was born in Birmingham, Alabama, where he attended The Altamont School.  He studied English literature at Columbia College in New York City, where he now lives with his wife and daughter.  He has appeared on the Today Show, National Public Radio, MSNBC, CNN and other outlets to discuss his works.

Read more about St. John and the story of Outcasts United on outcastsunited.com.

The Fugees ~ show information

The team at the heart of the book, the Fugees, was a team that was comprised entirely of refugees (thus, the 'fugees) from nations as far-flung as Afghanistan, Liberia and Sudan.  The players, recruited through fliers printed in multiple languages and posted at apartment buildings, community stores and other locations that had a high refugee population, were young boys who had experienced horrors that no child should witness.  One had witnessed his father's brutal death while another was forced to kill his best friend.  But just as these children bore witness to the cruelty of life, they also were a testament to life's pure joys: being part of a team, winning at competition, and befriending others.  Luma's coaching, while tough, prepared the Fugees for both success and disappointment.  Through all of the highs and lows of the season, the Fugees - and Luma- were "powered by simple but enduring ideas: a sense of fairness, love, forgiveness, and most of all, a willingness to work - to engage in the process of turning these simple notions into actions that could affect others" (Outcasts United, p. 299).

To learn more about the Fugees and Luma's newest endeavor, the Fugees Academy, we recommend you visit these sites:

The Fugees Family Foundation

The Fugees Family Facebook page

"Refugees Find Hope, Film Deal on Soccer Field," National Public Radio

Luma Mufleh's Speech at the Mills College 2012 Commencement

Where are they now?

Following the Fugees' 2006 season, many things changed:

  • Mandela Ziaty was accepted into a Job Corps program and subsequently earned his high school diploma in 2008
  • Shamsoun Dikori and Natnael Mammo were accepted to Pfeiffer University in North Carolina.  Shamsoun received a scholarship to play soccer and hopes to start a school in his former village.
  • Shahir Anwar, was accepted to Paideia School, an exclusive private school in Atlanta.
  • Alex, Bien and Ive's family moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana, in part to live in a safer environment.
  • Qendrim had to leave the Fugees because he was unable to get transportation to the field from his home.
  • Kanue Biah played for an elite Atlanta soccer club after leaving the Fugees.
  • Luma Mufleh continues to work to make a difference in refugees' lives and founded the Fugees Academy.


Reader's Guide ~ show information

Students:  When you receive your copy of Outcasts United in the mail, enclosed will be a reader's guide which introduces some of the concepts and ideas that will be the basis of discussion during Welcome Week. 

Students, Orientation Guides, & Faculty: Reading Outcasts United?  You are invited to read the reader's guide online.

Still want more? Recommended articles and videos about Outcasts United and the story:

CBS Sunday Morning

NPR Picture Show:  100 Words

Sports Illustrated

Butler Reflections on "Outcasts United" ~ show information

The Common Reading is not just an exercise for incoming students to complete prior to their arrival.  The entire Butler University Community is encouraged to read the book in order to have an understanding of the focus of Welcome Week and Academic Day.  What follows are reflections about Outcasts United from staff, students and faculty from across campus.

Renee Reed, Reference and Instruction Librarian, Irwin Library: Community Impact

"...[T]he book works to support the importance of the Butler University Core Indianapolis Community Requirement.  Only as the coach comes to know more about the individuals, groups, and businesses within her town is she able to market her team to the right kids, gather support for her team (use the field), and even find donors to help with team equipment.  This concept may especially resonate with College of Business majors."

Caroline Huck Watson, Director, PuLSE Office: Servant Leadership in Outcasts United 

"Putting Luma on a pedestal is counterproductive. [She] is really a normal person doing what she can for the people around her. If people can look at her and see that, that she's human, not a saint or a super-hero, and that she doesn't - can't  - do everything or effect miracles, then maybe they can say to themselves, 'I need to look around myself and see my neighborhood and what is going on here and five streets over, and what I can do in terms of investing myself and my time, to be present for the people around me and to do something positive for change in my community.' No one person can do everything but we can all do something." (Outcasts United, p.299)

For me, Luma Mufleh is a true embodiment of a servant leader and active citizen. That is, she leads by serving those around her. She recognized a need around her and was inspired to make a difference in the lives of others. At the same time, she was open to personal growth that transformed her as well. She exhibited key characteristic of a servant leader such as empathy, foresight, a commitment to the growth of people and building community. As an active citizen she stepped out of her comfort zone, connected with her passion and lived the change she sought to make. She looked for ways that her voice and the needs of those around could be heard.

A servant leader may hold a formal position, such as a coach. Yet, a servant leader does not need to be the designated "leader." Luma also created close relationships with family members of the Fugees and served their needs as a friend. A true servant leader learns to value and share his or her personal gifts and talents. Perhaps more importantly, a servant leader sees the gifts and talents in those around them. A servant leader encourages others to share of their gifts and talents, to rise to challenges and serve. Luma saw this light in those around her. She provided outlets for these gifts to grow.  She was one woman who saw a way she could make a change and took action. She got involved with her community and made a commitment.  

Embrace your college experience and all that it has to offer you in terms your personal development as well as the opportunities you will have to lead and serve others. Look around yourself…in your residence halls, your classrooms, your organizations, your neighborhood, Indianapolis and beyond. You will find limitless opportunities, both formal and informal. Share your talents and search for ways to help others maximize their own gifts. Connect with your passions and seek outlets to exercise them - there are student organizations, classes, service opportunities, internships and so much more. Know that you are not alone; you will be surrounded by mentors, friends, educators and resources. Utilize all of these as much as possible. You do not have to be a super-hero to make a difference. You need to be open to the exciting adventure that awaits you, to make the most of your time, and to think of ways you can give of your gifts and receive the talents of those around you.

Angela Lupton, Assistant Dean, College of Education: An Educator's View

As the lives and characters in Outcasts United come into view, one angle that is not as clearly defined is their experiences in schools.  In the book, the culture of soccer begins to provide a framework for both unique and mutually understood encounters, but how can the culture of school provide the same sense of identity and belonging?

As educators, it is imperative the we focus our lens, with understanding - not assumptions - on each of the students in our classrooms.  This text provides a challenge to you as a reader and future educator to think about the knowledge, skills and disposition that you will need in order to be an outstanding teacher for each learner in your classroom community.  As a teacher education student, you will need to push your own limits of comfort and understanding in order to truly be able to push your future students to explore theirs.  With that in mind, think about these questions as they relate to Outcasts United and four Core Values of the College of Education:

  1. Core Value of Teaching, Learning and Mentoring: How are the Fugees teachers for the community of Clarkston? What are the parallels for your future classroom?
  2. Core Value of Diversity and Similarity: Do you think the Fugees' classroom teachers knew of their challenges and successes with soccer?  What do you wish that your teachers knew about you?  What could they have done to make you feel like you could share that aspect of your life with them?
  3. Core Value of Theory and Practice: Luma Mufleh does not spend her days in a classroom, yet she is still a teacher.  What can we, as educators, learn from her?
  4. Integrity and Responsibility: Clarkston, Georgia, undergoes tremendous change, but change is not unusual for communities.  How can teachers help name change as it is occurring so that it can be addressed?  What is the role of the teacher in creating healthy classrooms and communities from a social, emotional, physical and academic perspective?

Volunteer with Refugee Organizations in Indianapolis ~ show information

Butler University is committed to living and learning "the Butler way."   The Butler Way demands commitment, denies selfishness, accepts reality yet seeks improvement every day. We aspire to improve ourselves and those around us. This applies to our excellent academics, supportive environment, vibrant campus and the contributions we make to our community and world. 

To that end, Butler is the proud home of the Volunteer Center, whose mission "is to assist members of the Butler University community in finding meaningful volunteer experiences and to provide opportunities to reflect on these experiences; thereby deepening the education of students and making a significant contribution of service to Indianapolis and the larger community."  One of the several organizations served by the Volunteer Center is Exodus Refugee Immigration, an organization dedicated to helping refugees from all over the globe acclimate to their new home and to learn how to be self-sufficient.  Please contact the Volunteer Center if you would like to volunteer with Exodus Refugee Immigration.

In addition, Butler University's Center for Citizenship and Community (CCC) works to provide service-learning opportunities for students.  Through service-learning courses and classes that meet the Indianapolis Community Requirement, CCC also works with the immigrant community through placements in the Immigrant Welcome Center.


"Only Connect" ~ show information

As you embark on reading Outcasts United, consider, too, what it means to connect...with others, with your community and with education.  The essay, "Only Connect...": The Goals of a Liberal Education, by William Cronon, explores the value and distinction of a liberal arts foundation for a life well-lived.  It is an essay that you will be able to turn to time and again during your academic career at Butler -- because the liberal arts are the foundation upon which a Butler University degree is built.  In fact, Butler is committed to providing the highest quality education and integrating the liberal arts with professional education. In our curricular and co-curricular offerings, we create and foster a stimulating intellectual community built upon interactive dialogue and inquiry among students, faculty, and staff.  We hope that you enjoy the essay and heed its recommendations.