Diversity and Democracy

Cultivating a Global Civic Mindset

The legacy of American tennis great Arthur Ashe began in his hometown of Richmond, Virginia, where his core values included a “passionate belief in the salvific power of education and intellectual inquiry, an extraordinary work ethic, and a deep commitment to social and civic responsibility” (Arsenault 2018, xii). These same values complement a global civic mindset that is essential for today’s students. With its deep roots in civic-mindedness, a global civic mindset requires individuals to question their intellectual perspectives and their own identities while also forging a strong commitment to social and civic responsibility at the local, global, and international levels. As students develop a global civic mindset, they focus on who they are becoming and how they can practice dispositions and skills in their civic and emerging professional lives.

At its foundation, a global civic mindset is based on the concepts of cultural humility and community cultural wealth. To practice cultural humility, individuals must negotiate meaning as they encounter people in various cultural contexts. They must also become aware of positionality, power, and privilege to ensure shared dignity (Hartman et al. 2020). Community cultural wealth ensures that the “knowledge, skills, abilities, and contacts” (Yosso 2005, 77) of communities of color are recognized and valued as assets. As students engage in experiential civic learning, these concepts help them position themselves and consider how they may be perceived before they enter an international community or a local civic space with global connections. This framing prepares students for the complex intercultural, global, and intergenerational engagement they may encounter.

After articulating what a global civic mindset is, students can focus on who they are becoming in their academic fields, as members of society in local and global contexts, and as future professionals. This requires a reflective but forward-looking orientation. Students must have time and space to reflect, respond, and situate their global and civic experiences into their majors, their course(s), and their lives. This mindset must also be forward-looking in that students should see how their own global and civic knowledge has evolved across their educational experiences, in their engagement with different communities, and as future leaders in these communities. As more institutions challenge students to attempt to solve real-world problems based on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (United Nations, n.d.), students will have opportunities to apply their global civic mindsets to the challenges that face their nations and the world. In many cases, they will be asked to do this in diverse teams with members from different majors, educational backgrounds, racial or ethnic groups, and/or nationalities. This will be critical to solving the challenges that face our world. No nation can do it alone, and we must prepare students to work together across boundaries and borders using innovation and technology to connect.

Having traveled the world as a tennis professional, Arthur Ashe won singles tennis titles at Wimbledon, the US Open, and the Australian Open, but he also was well known as an international activist for civil rights, racial equality, and women’s rights. “By the close of his career, he had become a model of cosmopolitanism and a self-proclaimed ‘citizen of the world,’ earning almost universal respect as . . . an independent-minded thinker and writer, a humanitarian philanthropist, and an unrivaled ambassador of sportsmanship and fair play” (Arsenault 2018, xii). These are the qualities we want all of our students to develop, and with a strong foundation in the tenets of a global civic mindset, they will be well on their way, regardless of their field of study.


Arsenault, Raymond. 2018. Arthur Ashe: A Life. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.

Hartman, Eric, Nora Pillard Reynolds, Niki Messmore, Sabea Evans, Bibi Al-Ebrahim, and John Matthias Brown. 2020. “Coloniality-Decoloniality and Critical Global Citizenship: Identity, Belonging, and Education Abroad.” Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad 32 (1): 33–59.

United Nations. n.d. “About the Sustainable Development Goals.” https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/

Yosso, Tara J. 2006. “Whose Culture Has Capital? A Critical Race Theory Discussion of Community Cultural Wealth.” Race Ethnicity and Education 8 (1): 69–91.

Dawn Michele Whitehead is Vice President of the Office of Global Citizenship for Campus, Community, and Careers at the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

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