The campus community will read the book Outcasts United with freshmen and participate in related discussions, events and projects throughout the 2015-2016 academic year.

Outcasts United

The campus community will read the book Outcasts United with freshmen, and participate in related discussions, events and projects throughout the 2015-2016 academic year.

Common Read Program to Focus on Solidarity

The First Year Seminar program at the College of Our Lady of the Elms will highlight solidarity in 2015 with a Common Read selection that challenges students to look at the ways in which people are the same, even while celebrating differences.

First Year Seminar (FYS) helps new students get to know each other, connect with faculty and become part of the Elms community. As a part of FYS, the Common Read program is designed to provide all new first-year students with a common intellectual experience centered around a theme of Catholic Social Teaching (CST); the goal is to encourage a sense of community among students, faculty and staff. This year’s theme is Solidarity.

“The Common Read helps our students understand Catholic Social Teachings from different perspectives,” said Carol Allan, SSJ, M.A.T., the director of Campus Ministry. “The books that we choose usually contain multiple CST themes, which professors can draw on throughout the academic year.”

The 2015-2016 book selection, Outcasts United, by Warren St. John, was chosen by a committee comprising faculty, staff and students charged with selecting a text that is interdisciplinary, global, recently published, and relatable to both first-year students and the Elms College community.

Outcasts United reflects the need for solidarity in our world,” Allan said. “It also touches upon current issues in the world today: refugees, poverty, employment-worker issues, family, community. We strive to develop our students into critical thinkers who will be able to research, understand and act in situations that affect our most vulnerable populations, wherever our students are.

“Reading a book as a college campus provides us with the opportunity to grow as a community, make our faith come alive, work for justice and strive for excellence.  What is better than that?”

The book tells the story of the Fugees, a team of refugee boys who escaped harrowing experiences in Congo, Burundi, Sudan, Liberia, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries; Luma Mufleh, the remarkable woman -- and fellow immigrant -- who coaches them; and the town where they live: Clarkston, a once-sleepy Georgia hamlet that has been upended by the process of refugee resettlement. It's a story about the challenges posed by our quickly changing world, one that reminds us of what is possible in this country when we put our values into action.

The Fugees all share an experience of being caught between worlds, but they also share a love of soccer. Their passion for the game and the bonds they form across cultural barriers help them compete against some of the best teams in the area, even as they struggle off the field to find a sense of security in their new home.

“So many of the people I met in Clarkston – refugees, Luma, even the long-term residents, and especially a lot of the people who work in refugee resettlement – are looking for something: stability and safety, a sense of belonging to a larger community,” said St. John, the author. “And in a way, that becomes the one thing that many people, even from very different backgrounds, have in common. The trick is opening enough of a conversation that strangers learn that about each other.”

“In many ways, there are strong parallels between Clarkston and our local area,” said Joyce Hampton, Ed.D., the director of student success and strategic initiatives at Elms. “Like Clarkston, Western Massachusetts has been challenged with receiving a diverse population and understanding how best to welcome, educate and grow strong families.”

The Common Read program itself will be a conversation opener at Elms, turning strangers into a true community, helping them to find the things they have in common.“Reading Outcasts United together is a way to unite our campus in exploring solidarity: the idea that we are one human, interconnected family -- sisters and brothers,” Hampton said.

“I am always excited and thrilled -- and sometimes challenged -- by our students,” Allan added.  “Excited to watch another class blossom into people who reach across lines to help others unknown to them, thrilled to be included in their journey and challenged to look at the world from their perspective.”

The Common Read is important in liberal arts education because it supports an approach called integrative learning. “We want our students to interact with a text, think deeply about its themes of connection and reflect as they apply the learning,” she explained. “Academically, we want students to value reading, to have respect for various viewpoints, and to be involved in cocurricular or experiential opportunities that build strong relationships -- student to student and student to faculty -- what we feel creates a solid foundation for our students to succeed in college.”

Outcasts United is available for purchase in the Elms College bookstore. For more information about First Year Seminar and Common Read-related events, visit our FYS page.