Diversity and Democracy

From the Editor

Southeast of the US Capitol building in Washington, DC, a series of bridges spans the Anacostia River. Beyond the bounds of the typical tourist circuit, these structures connect the wealthy and politically powerful communities around Capitol Hill to many of the less-well-resourced neighborhoods of southeast Washington. In contrast to the bridges across the Potomac River to the west, which link some of DC’s and Virginia’s most advantaged communities, the bridges across the Anacostia don’t carry much political or social capital along with their automotive traffic. Symbolically and geographically, the river has been too strong a dividing line.

Washington, DC, is not well known for these or any other bridges, physical or figurative. But this issue of Diversity & Democracy counters that trend, bringing together two DC-based national associations to support collaborative efforts across a common institutional divide. Created and published in partnership with NASPA–Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, this issue of Diversity & Democracy represents a bridge between two associations working with both student affairs and academic affairs educators to advance a shared mission: that of ensuring that all college students engage in civic learning as a central component of their liberal education.

Civic learning is the shared work of both student and academic affairs. As suggested by Susie Brubaker-Cole and Larry D. Roper in this issue of Diversity & Democracy, civic learning has implications for personal development and flourishing that college and university educators are just beginning to address, with consequences for teaching and learning both in and out of the classroom. Moreover, as Kevin Kruger, Laura E. Sponsler, and Caryn McTighe Musil describe here, recent research points to both academic affairs and student affairs domains as critical to ensuring the student learning outcomes that are associated with civic learning and democratic engagement.

As this research attests, advancing the civic learning that the country needs to bridge its political, economic, and cultural divides will require concerted, intentional, and collaborative efforts within and among institutions. The National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement argued for this necessity in A Crucible Moment: College Learning and Democracy’s Future, calling on colleges and universities to “foster a civic ethos across all parts of campus and educational culture” (2012, 31). Formed to advance the report’s recommendations, the Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement Action Network involves thirteen national organizations, including AAC&U and NASPA, in coordinated efforts to institutionalize civic learning. This issue of Diversity & Democracy represents only one of these efforts.

The issue depicts notable bridges between student and academic affairs educators working to advance civic learning and democratic engagement. Its authors provide practical advice for crossing the boundaries between the two divisions, highlighting the importance of institutional leadership and of organizational designs that honor the critical contributions of both academic and student affairs. Sharing successes and challenges faced at their own institutions, the authors model effective cross-divisional partnerships and contemplate barriers yet to be traversed. From Puget Sound to Long Island Sound and at various locations in between, they offer essential lessons for faculty and student affairs educators who work directly with students, as well as for administrators and educational leaders hoping to create what Melissa Kesler Gilbert describes in this issue as “civic ecotones for community partnerships.”

The ultimate goal, of course, is not simply to connect different civic spaces—inside and outside of the classroom; on campus and beyond; on different sides of political, cultural, economic, and geographic divides. Rather, the goal is to create integrated civic spaces where all participants—faculty, administrators, student affairs educators, students, and community members—are empowered to participate in and contribute to their various communities, local, national, and global. Imagine if such spaces replaced the divisions of southeast Washington, DC, and the neighborhoods that surround it. With this issue of Diversity & Democracy, NASPA and AAC&U invite readers across student and academic affairs to embark on the shared project of building such spaces together.


National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement. 2012. A Crucible Moment: College Learning and Democracy’s Future. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

Kathryn Peltier Campbell is editor of Diversity & Democracy.

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