Diversity and Democracy

From the Editor: A New Vision of Alumnihood

I recently returned to my alma mater for a college reunion. My visit was marked by all the typical surges of nostalgia as I traversed the quads, traded memories with friends, and lamented a narrowly lost homecoming game. But it was a chance meeting with a student that would be my most memorable experience.

Outside the student newspaper office where I had my first role as an editor, I met a student editor who offered to unlock the door. Inside, he brought out archived issues and proudly showed me the latest edition. It featured an impressive array of articles—stories about survivors of sexual violence on campus, an examination of city police reform efforts, and three columns on student activism.

My host coauthored one of those columns. He wrote that he believes he has a responsibility to elevate marginalized voices and create a more equitable world—a conviction I share. His column is one way he tries to accomplish this. I thought about how my student newspaper experience marked the convergence for me of what Harry Boyte calls “the three C’s”—college, career, and citizenship—and how that experience may be similarly meaningful for today’s student editors. As I left, the student asked me to keep in touch. I began to reflect on my journey and wonder what I might contribute to students just beginning theirs.

In 2012, spurred by the publication of A Crucible Moment: College Learning and Democracy’s Future, the Association of American Colleges and Universities convened twelve other organizations to form the Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement (CLDE) Action Network, dedicated to making civic inquiry and engagement part of every student’s college education. As more students graduate having pursued civic engagement, it makes sense to involve alumni in the movement for civic learning and to consider how civic engagement might define one way that colleges and universities relate to their former students. Many CLDE Action Network members (including the Kettering Foundation, which partnered to produce this issue of Diversity & Democracy) have supported the work of reimagining alumnihood to engage former students as “doers, not (just) donors,” in the words of the Citizen Alum initiative (http://www.citizenalum.org).

This issue of Diversity & Democracy grew out of the work of the Kettering Foundation’s Learning Exchange on Civically Engaged Alumni (2013–15). We are very grateful to Derek Barker and his colleagues at the Kettering Foundation for their partnership on this issue and generosity in sharing its production costs. We are also sincerely thankful to Julie Ellison of the University of Michigan and of Citizen Alum, whose expertise and thoughtful guidance was instrumental in planning and producing this issue.

A major part of reimagining alumnihood involves listening to diverse groups of alumni. In this issue, we amplify the voices of alumni and the faculty and staff that work with them. Our contributors share stories of how alumni are applying their civic learning experiences in college to their lives as citizens. They describe how former students are working as mentors and coeducators to prepare the civically engaged citizens of the future. These contributors imagine a powerful, inclusive vision of alumnihood—one in which colleges and universities enlist alumni as allies in improving civic education and in advancing the institutions’ public missions in the places where alumni are situated as professionals and community members. This approach to alumnihood forges lasting connections among alumni, students, faculty, and staff while building strong communities and a vital democracy.

—Emily Schuster
Editor, Diversity & Democracy

Emily Schuster is the editor of Diversity & Democracy.

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