Diversity and Democracy

From the Editor: Publicly Engaged Scholarship and Teaching

"College is a place where our stories intersect with the stories of others."

So begins this issue of Diversity & Democracy, its cover created in collaboration between Nick Sousanis, Jamie Haft, and Michele Stinson. Appropriately, Nick’s graphic art and illustration, Nick and Jamie’s text, and Michele’s cover design represent an intersection in their own regard: between the complementary talents of three individuals, between academic discourse and public purpose. Their work suggests the generative possibilities of partnership growing out of academic spaces and carried out in service to higher education’s civic mission.

This issue of Diversity & Democracy—created in partnership between the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) and Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life (IA)—represents a similar intersection, with similarly generative ends. As members of the Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement (CLDE) Action Network—a collaborative of thirteen national higher education organizations—IA and AAC&U have committed to advancing the civic purposes of higher education in concert with others across higher education.

"Through these encounters, we gain new vantage points from which to better understand one another and ourselves."

Members of the CLDE Action Network, launched in response to the 2012 report A Crucible Moment: College Learning and Democracy’s Future (National Task Force 2012), are providing innovative leadership related to civic engagement. (For more information about the CLDE Action Network, click here.) The CLDE Action Network’s work focuses in part on aspects of student learning, such as those outlined in A Crucible Moment’s Framework for Twenty-First-Century Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement (4). This framework describes the knowledge, skills, values, and collective action that higher education needs to prioritize in order to prepare students for "knowledgeable citizenship" in a "highly diverse and globally engaged democracy" (3).

In focusing on publicly engaged scholarship and teaching, this issue of Diversity & Democracy lifts up the role such endeavors play in supporting the priorities for student learning outlined in A Crucible Moment. It also, importantly, points toward the role higher education can play in building a better world, within academe and beyond. It raises critical questions about the commitment needed to create positive change, and suggests action steps—including some represented by visionary initiatives that are already occurring—that will empower people and communities and promote civic health in a diverse democracy.

"Within humanities, arts, and design, we discover our innate tools for storytelling and listening, transforming something we once knew in one way into something multidimensional…"

In keeping with IA priorities and AAC&U commitments, this issue’s authors attest to the particular role that publicly engaged scholarship and teaching in the arts, humanities, and design fields can play in strengthening higher education’s public purpose and preparing students for civically engaged lives. In telling their own stories, contributing authors point toward the various and complementary—but often contested—ways in which higher education is poised to, as IA Co-Directors Timothy Eatman and Scott Peters write in this issue, create a story that "arcs toward … constructive transformation."

AAC&U is grateful to IA for inviting Diversity & Democracy to share these stories. Special recognition goes to Timothy Eatman, guest editorial advisor for this issue (and regular member of Diversity & Democracy’s editorial advisory board), for his significant leadership and intellectual contributions. Thanks are also due to the many individuals from both IA and AAC&U who participated, with thoughtfulness and enthusiasm, in planning conversations—and, as always, to the authors who helped create this multidimensional product.

"...opening possibilities as we go forth and find our own way."

Ideally, the stories in this issue will intersect with those of readers in generative ways. If this issue prompts new thinking and conversation about publicly engaged scholarship and teaching, in the cultural fields and beyond, it will have accomplished its goal. If that thinking and conversation leads to new initiatives that promote student learning and civic well-being, so much the better. We invite readers to consider how their own stories intersect with those told here, opening possibilities in their own contexts across higher education.


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.

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