For Immediate Release

David Tritelli
Vice President for Communications and Public Affairs
202-888-0811 (office)

AAC&U and The Democracy Commitment Join with Seven Community Colleges To Launch New Project on "Citizenship Under Siege"

$200,000 Grant from NEH to Fund New Project Series of Public Forums as Part of AAC&U's Signature Initiative, Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement

Dec 17, 2015


Washington, DC—The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) and The Democracy Commitment (TDC) announced today the receipt of a $200,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to sponsor a series of public forums around the country on "Citizenship Under Siege" in partnership with seven community colleges. This project builds on a previously NEH-funded initiative, Bridging Cultures to Form a Nation: Difference, Community, and Democratic Thinking. Seven of the community colleges in that aforementioned three-year curriculum and faculty development initiative will sponsor forums in the project.

AAC&U and TDC, in partnership with these community colleges, will facilitate a tapestry of public dialogues exploring who counts as citizens and who has been accorded full rights to democracy's promises.  These public forums will be grounded in the nation's history and explore creative ways to use the power of the humanities to bridge differences and build strong communities.

In announcing the grants awarded as part of NEH's new initiative, The Common Good: Humanities and the Public Square, William D. Adams, NEH Chairman, said, "We need the humanities, now more than ever, because they give us access to the most fundamental and consequential dimensions and forces of our experience."

Since the nation's origins, who counts as a U.S. citizen has been hotly contested, and today those divisive debates are as intense as ever.  AAC&U's Senior Scholar and Director of Civic Learning and Democracy Initiatives Caryn McTighe Musil explains, "The forums will examine how the humanities can help people understand the successive re-imagining of American identity over time and the excruciating distinctions in one's everyday life, depending on whether one's citizenship has been deemed as full, partial, stratified, postponed, or denied." 

Co-Founder of The Democracy Commitment, President of De Anza Community College, and member of AAC&U's board of directors Brian Murphy adds, "Community college students represent the broadest diversity of our nation's students and our communities, and they are deeply interested in developing their own voice.  Especially in a time of divisive, even xenophobic, political rhetoric, community college students seek to build more generous and caring communities, where one people is built out of many.  This grant will enable us to expand and augment the excellent work already underway on so many of our campuses."

Tailored to issues of importance to their local communities, the public forums will explore critical questions about citizenship such as:

  • What historic struggles for full social justice, democratic rights, and recognition can illuminate a way through contemporary logjams over issues about citizenship, who belongs, and who should get full citizenship rights?
  • How can the humanities provide fresh understandings for our contemporary context of key principles and values embedded in our founding documents: equality, individual dignity, opportunity, liberty, and public happiness?
  • How can the humanities with their powers of narrative and imagination illuminate the human drama behind these political debates: the yearning, struggle, humiliation, resilience, despair, and triumph?
  • How can the humanities contribute to the constructive practice of democratic engagement across multiple differences in background and world view especially in the face of suspicion, mistrust, vulnerability, ignorance, and polarization?

Participating Community Colleges Include:

  • City University Kingsborough Community College, New York
    Citizenship Under Siege: Promoting Religious Pluralism and Inclusive Citizenship
  • Middlesex Community College, Massachusetts
    Citizenship Under Siege: A Culture in Transition
  • County College of Morris, New Jersey
    Citizenship Under Siege: Stratified Citizenship
  • Lone Star College, Texas
    Citizenship Under Siege: The Effects of Income Inequality
  • Santa Fe College, Florida
    Citizenship Under Siege: Stratified Citizenship in Florida
  • Mount Wachusett Community College, Massachusetts
    Citizenship Under Siege: Degrees of Citizenship
  • Miami Dade College, Florida
    Citizenship Under Siege: Democracy for All?

AAC&U also will devote a special issue of its quarterly Diversity & Democracy to serve as a print and online resource about how the humanities can provide content, process, and perspectives on these contentious debates and how others might replicate public forums on their own campuses with local communities.  The Democracy Commitment (TDC) will also host a series of webinars that will provide educational resources on how to organize public forums that offer a way to discuss these critical questions about citizenship and wrestle with associated hard choices and different viewpoints.

For more information, see:

About AAC&U

AAC&U is the leading national association concerned with the quality, vitality, and public standing of undergraduate liberal education. Its members are committed to extending the advantages of a liberal education to all students, regardless of academic specialization or intended career. Founded in 1915, AAC&U now comprises more than 1,300 member institutions—including accredited public and private colleges, community colleges, research universities, and comprehensive universities of every type and size.

AAC&U functions as a catalyst and facilitator, forging links among presidents, administrators, and faculty members who are engaged in institutional and curricular planning. Its mission is to reinforce the collective commitment to liberal education and inclusive excellence at both the national and local levels, and to help individual institutions keep the quality of student learning at the core of their work as they evolve to meet new economic and social challenges.

About The Democracy Commitment

The Democracy Commitment (TDC) is a national initiative providing a platform for the development and expansion of community college programs, projects and curricula aiming at engaging students in civic learning and democratic practice across the country.

The goal of TDC is that every graduate of an American community college shall have had an education in democracy. This includes all of our students, whether they aim to transfer to university, achieve an associate degree or obtain a certificate.

For more information about The Democracy Commitment's mission, activities, and members, visit