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Academic orientation programs
Academic Orientation Programs

Butler University Common Reading Program

What is a Common Reading program?

Common reading initiatives are wide-spread 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 and 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. The opportunity 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.

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

At Butler University, the following priorities are considered when choosing a book:

  • Readability and potential for engaging students
  • Relevance to current social, global, and/or local community issues
  • Appeal to wide range of students
  • Interdisciplinary; raises interesting issues for discussion in a variety of courses
  • Possibilities for campus-wide programming

The Common Reading on Campus

Butler University’s Common Read program was discontinued in 2019.

Many thanks to those faculty, staff, and students who gave their time and expertise to the Common Reading program over the years.


Past Selections Included:

Welcome Week Common Read 2018

Enrique's Journey: The Story of a Boy's Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite with his Mother
by Sonia Nazario

Enrique’s Journey recounts the unforgettable quest of a Honduran boy looking for his mother, eleven years after she is forced to leave her starving family to find work in the United States. Braving unimaginable peril, often clinging to the sides and tops of freight trains, Enrique travels through hostile worlds full of thugs, bandits, and corrupt cops. But he pushes forward, relying on his wit, courage, hope, and the kindness of strangers.

Welcome Week Common Read 2017

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption
by Bryan Stevenson

A powerful true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to fix our broken system of justice, Just Mercy is a New York Times Best Seller by Bryan Stevenson.

Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machinations, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.

Just Mercy is an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of justice.

Welcome Week Common Read 2016

Where Am I Wearing? A Gloabal Tour To the Countries, Factories, and People That Make Our Clothes
by Kelsey Timmerman

Fueled by passion and curiosity, Kelsey Timmerman tells the story of the items we often take for granted and how they connect us to the world as global and local citizens.

From garment factories in Cambodia to banana plantations in Costa Rica, Kelsey Timmerman is dedicated to addressing global issues through storytelling. By traveling the world and telling the stories of the people he meets, Timmerman is able to educate his readers and initiate dialogue about our responsibilities as local and global citizens. In his first book, Where Am I Wearing?, he traveled the world to find out where his clothes came from. Visiting garment factories in Asia and Latin America, he shared the stories of the people who make our clothes. From a 20-something t-shirt maker in Honduras to a single mother of two in Bangladesh, Timmerman humanizes the issues of globalization and provokes readers to check their tags and think about where their clothing comes from.

Welcome Week Common Read 2014 and 2015

Ties That Bind: Stories of Love and Gratitude from the First Ten Years of Story Corps 
by Dave Isay

Ties That Bind honors the people who nourish and strengthen us. StoryCorps founder, Dave Isay, draws from ten years of the revolutionary oral history project's rich archives, collecting conversations that celebrate the power of the human bond and capture the moment at which individuals become family. Between blood relations, friends, coworkers, and neighbors, in the most trying circumstances and in the unlikeliest of places, enduring connections are formed and lives are forever changed.

The stories shared in Ties That Bind reveal our need to reach out, to support, and to share life's burdens and joys. Against unspeakable odds, at their most desperate moments, the individuals we meet find their way to one another, discovering hope and healing. Commemorating ten years of StoryCorps, the conversations collected are a testament to the transformational power of listening.  

Welcome Week Common Read 2012 and 2013

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

Outcasts United Book CoverOriginally 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.

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).

Welcome Week Common Read 2011

Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer
by Novella Carpenter

Farm City Book CoverNovella 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.

Welcome Week Common Read 2010

A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future 
by Daniel PinkA Whole New Mind Book Cover

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.

Welcome Week Common Read 2008 and 2009

Listening Is An Act of Love: A Celebration of American Life from the StoryCorps Project
by Dave Isay

StoryCorps founder and legendary radio producer Dave Isay selects the most memorable stories from StoryCorps' collection, creating a moving portrait of American life.

The voices here connect us to real people and their lives--to their experiences of profound joy, sadness, courage, and despair, to good times and hard times, to good deeds and misdeeds. To read this book is to be reminded of how rich and varied the American storybook truly is, how resistant to easy categorization or stereotype. We are our history, individually and collectively, and Listening Is an Act of Love touchingly reminds us of this powerful truth.

Welcome Week Common Read 2007

by Dalton Conley

As recalled in Honky, Dalton Conley’s childhood has all of the classic elements of growing up in America. But the fact that he was one of the few white boys in a mostly black and Puerto Rican neighborhood on Manhattan’s Lower East Side makes Dalton’s childhood unique.

At the age of three, he couldn’t understand why the infant daughter of the black separatists next door couldn’t be his sister, so he kidnapped her. By the time he was a teenager, he realized that not even a parent’s devotion could protect his best friend from a stray bullet. Years after the privilege of being white and middle class allowed Conley to leave the projects, his entertaining memoir allows us to see how race and class impact us all. Perfectly pitched and daringly original, Honky is that rare book that entertains even as it informs.

Welcome Week Common Read 2006

In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong 
by Amin Maalouf

“I want to try and understand why so many people commit crimes in the name of identity,” writes Amin Maalouf. Identity is the crucible out of which we come: our background, our race, our gender, our tribal affiliations, our religion (or lack thereof), all go into making up who we are. All too often, however, the notion of identity—personal, religious, ethnic, or national—has given rise to heated passions and even massive crimes. Moving across the world’s history, faiths, and politics, he argues against an oversimplified and hostile interpretation of the concept. He cogently and persuasively examines identity in the context of the modern world, where it can be viewed as both glory and poison. Evident here are the dangers of using identity as a protective—and therefore aggressive—mechanism, the root of racial, geographical, and colonialist subjugation throughout history.

Maalouf contends that many of us would reject our inherited conceptions of identity, to which we cling through habit, if only we examined them more closely. The future of society depends on accepting all identities, while recognizing our individualism.

Welcome Week Common Read 2005

Mountains beyond mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World
by Tracy Kidder

This compelling and inspiring book, shows how one person can work wonders. In Mountains Beyond Mountains, Pulitzer Prize—winning author Tracy Kidder tells the true story of a gifted man who loves the world and has set out to do all he can to cure it.

In medical school, Paul Farmer found his life’s calling: to cure infectious diseases and to bring the lifesaving tools of modern medicine to those who need them most. Kidder’s magnificent account takes us from Harvard to Haiti, Peru, Cuba, and Russia as Farmer changes minds and practices through his dedication to the philosophy that “the only real nation is humanity.” At the heart of this book is the example of a life based on hope and on an understanding of the truth of the Haitian proverb “Beyond mountains there are mountains”–as you solve one problem, another problem presents itself, and so you go on and try to solve that one too.

Welcome Week Common Read 2004

Einstein's Dreams
by Alan Lightman

A modern classic, Einstein’s Dreams is a fictional collage of stories dreamed by Albert Einstein in 1905, about time, relativity and physics. As the defiant but sensitive young genius is creating his theory of relativity, a new conception of time, he imagines many possible worlds. In one, time is circular, so that people are fated to repeat triumphs and failures over and over. In another, there is a place where time stands still, visited by lovers and parents clinging to their children. In another, time is a nightingale, sometimes trapped by a bell jar.

Einstein’s Dreams has inspired playwrights, dancers, musicians, and painters all over the world. In poetic vignettes, it explores the connections between science and art, the process of creativity, and ultimately the fragility of human existence.

Welcome Week Common Read 2003

The Friendly Persuasion
by Jessamyn West

A quintessential American heroine, Eliza Birdwell is a wonderful blend of would-be austerity, practicality, and gentle humor when it comes to keeping her faith and caring for her family and community. Her husband, Jess, shares Eliza's love of people and peaceful ways but, unlike Eliza, also displays a fondness for a fast horse and a lively tune. With their children, they must negotiate their way through a world that constantly confronts them-sometimes with candor, sometimes with violence-and tests the strength of their beliefs. Whether it's a gift parcel arriving on their doorstep or Confederate soldiers approaching their land, the Birdwells embrace life with emotion, conviction, and a love for one another that seems to conquer all.

The Friendly Persuasion has charmed generations of readers as one of our classic tales of the American Midwest.