Diversity and Democracy

Reconfiguring Civic Engagement on Campus: What Are the Levers for Change?

Editor's note: In this excerpt from an essay on "Remapping Education for Social Responsibility: Civic, Global, and US Diversity," Caryn McTighe Musil describes how the civic learning movement can deepen connections to the global and US diversity education movements, building critical alliances in educating for democratic engagement.

There are several levers that campuses are turning to in order to accelerate their ability to reconfigure the focus of the civic work and build alliances with diversity and global practitioners. Three levers have proven especially productive: adopting more unifying concepts to shape the work, recognizing similar pedagogical practices, and rallying around common educational commitments that are necessary in this global century.



A CSUMB Americorps member and a student share the rich compost produced at the Salinas Chinatown Community Garden.

A concept like "citizenship," for instance, offers an intellectual footbridge across the three spheres of inquiry. It has long been a centerpiece of civic work, long sought as a right within diversity work, and is used to capture cross-national responsibilities in global work. Examining the contested nature of each term in all three locations and the differing and similar usages of the term in the separate fields of inquiry and practice is yielding new levels of integration and cross-collaborations. In AAC&U's global research project that examined college mission statements, both preparing for citizenship and global citizenship were newly asserted as institutional goals.

Similarly, the term "democracy" offers common space for scholarship, teaching, and practice. AAC&U, for instance, is a member of a steering committee for the International Consortium for Higher Education, Civic Responsibility, and Democracy (IC) headquartered at the University of Pennsylvania. Since its initial collaboration began in 2000, the IC's partnership with the Council of Europe (CoE) has involved hundreds of colleges and universities, primarily in Europe and the United States, in joint forums, research projects, and publications. Again, the contested nature of the term and its forever incomplete practice provide rich intellectual space for cooperative and integrative inquiry and practice.

Flowing from democracy are the twin terms "social responsibility" and "social justice," which are emergent crosscutting terms that suggest both agency and public policy action. Both concepts help move civic engagement from pure service to service and advocacy, and from a cautiously apolitical stance to an unabashedly political but not doctrinaire one. There is evidence that more civic engagement programs are using the term "justice" or "social justice" in their mission statements and learning goals. The concept is absolutely central to US diversity work across its multifaceted academic areas. While the term seems less common in global work, the concept is implicit in efforts to generate global commitments to remedy the world's deep inequalities, which are visible in efforts like the United National Millennium Development Goals, increasing cooperation about sustainability, and ongoing cross-national movements about human rights. When AAC&U launched its Core Commitments initiative in 2006 to promote personal and social responsibility as an essential rather than an optional learning goal for undergraduates, its first open symposium attracted 450 people from 256 different institutions. More than three hundred presidents have also pledged to champion these outcomes, and many campuses find the term offers an expansive umbrella for civic, global, and diversity work.

A triumvirate of interlocking concepts holds promising intellectual and practice space for integration and collaboration: identityrecognition, and community. Identity and recognition are absolutely central to the intellectual framing of US diversity work and directly tied to social movements by marginalized groups seeking recognition of their full worth and dignity, which has been typically linked to acquiring full rights as citizens. Post-colonial struggles documented in global scholarship are often organized around these same struggles. These concepts are used, for example, in the influential book Multiculturalism: Examining the Politics of Recognition (Taylor et al. 1994), and Arab writer Amin Maalouf, now living in France, explored a different context in his book In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong (2003).

Three recent pieces argue powerfully for giving more prominence to identity and recognition as a defining dimension of civic work, with the understanding of how identity formation is inextricably tied to one's inherited and self-chosen communities. In 2003, a civic engagement working group organized through AAC&U's Greater Expectations1 described its theoretical model of the civic-learning spiral as being composed of three parts. The first component is self, understood to be an identity embedded in relationships, in a social location, and within a specific historic context, that then, in dynamic interplay, influences and is influenced by the other components of the civic spiral that includes communities, values, skills, knowledge, and public practice (Musil 2009, 59–63). L. Lee Knefelkamp authored the groundbreaking lead article "Civic Identity: Locating Self in Community" for Diversity & Democracy (2008), which argues that civic identity is "an identity status in its own right," and should be "one of the outcomes of a liberal education." She proceeds to articulate its essential characteristic, including "deliberately chosen and repeatedly enacted aspects of the self" (1–2). She lays out the multiple ways the academy can contribute, paramount among them, "students need to witness the academy's ongoing commitments to creating a more just society" (3).

Similarly, Anne Colby, an advisory board member of AAC&U's Core Commitments and noted scholar on civic and moral development whom Knefelkamp draws upon as an authority, coauthored "Strengthening the Foundations of Students' Excellence, Integrity, and Social Contribution" with William M. Sullivan (2009), in which they, too, make links between identity, recognition, and community.... The ground is thus already laid for ways in which civic educators have a fertile space for future work with their diversity and global counterparts by linking identity, recognition, and community.

Pedagogical Practices

This is the low-hanging fruit of collaboration and integration across civic, diversity, and global work. Prominent in all three is the pedagogical practice of dialogue. In civic work it is typically called "deliberative dialogue"; in US diversity work, "intergroup dialogue"; and in global, it is known as "intercultural dialogue." In all three, the practices are well honed, the scholarship well defined, and the research on its impact on learning well documented. What is missing is the recognition across the three of their shared practice, what can be learned from each other, and how to use this shared practice as a common organizing strategy for shared work, whether in classroom pedagogy, community based dialogues, or global interactions. [...]

Another area in which all three already work in similar pedagogical domains is community-based learning. When black studies, women's studies, and other US diversity academic programs were initiated, the practitioners of each program had a sense of themselves as the academic arms of existing social movements. These origins affected their scholarship, course subject design, pedagogies, and engagements with communities beyond the walls of the academy. Learning from, with, and for the benefit of the community is threaded through these academic programs, which, in their cocurricular formulations, typically also have strong ties with community concerns and a history of community partnerships. Global education is just beginning to do more of the community-based learning and research in its courses, with institutions like Worcester Polytechnic Institute taking the national lead. The school's Global Perspectives Program involves 50 percent of all WPI students in semester-long academic projects in their junior year to address pressing community issues defined by governments, nonprofit organizations, and local citizens. These include everything from health and human services in Bangkok to transforming squatters' villages into ecovillages in Cape Town, green building design in Worcester, and water and sanitation in Windhoek, Namibia.

The last shared practice to highlight straddles both pedagogy and scholarship: the emerging and newly recognized field of public scholarship. It has developed sufficiently to now have its own literature of debate about what public scholarship means or should mean, but it captures efforts, as one set of authors describes it, to bring academic scholars and students "into public space and public relationships in order to facilitate knowledge discovery, learning, and action relevant to civic issues and problems" (Peters et al. 2003, 73). Research institutions, where scholarship is the coin of the realm and necessary for tenure, have begun to define guidelines for public scholarship so it is counted, rewarded, and recognized in tenure and promotion decisions. Institutions like the University of Minnesota, Pennsylvania State University, Cornell University, University of Michigan, Stanford University, and Syracuse University have taken the lead on establishing, defining, and valuing public scholarship in professional faculty advancement.

Public scholarship has obvious relevance to civic engagement work, but it has already been the purview of scholarship in US diversity scholarship, which, like civic work, often roots its research within the community and community contexts, and which understands its scholarship as being profoundly about advancing social justice movements. Well-known African American and feminist scholars like bell hooks and Cornell West have long carved out a different kind of scholarship as public intellectuals both trying to engage with a broader nonacademic public through their scholarship and through traditional scholarship that is the result of deep engagement with publics. The Institute on Ethnicity, Culture, and the Modern Experience at Rutgers University—Newark organizes itself to integrate scholarship, teaching, and mutual engagement in civic life using public scholarship as a means for doing that and Newark as the source of investigation and partnership.

Educational Commitments

Finally, one of the levers that should create common ground on which civic, diversity, and global educational reform movements can foster greater integration and collaboration is their shared educational commitments. The three actually helped invent and promote what are emerging, even if they are not yet always practiced, as consensus educational goals that define what students need for the diverse, interdependent world where they will live and work. AAC&U describes these as Principles of Excellence in College Learning for the New Global Century(National Leadership Council for Liberal Education and America's Promise 2007):

  • Teach the arts of inquiry and innovation
  • Engage the Big Questions
  • Connect knowledge to choices and action
  • Foster civic, intercultural, and ethical learning
  • Assess students' ability to apply learning to complex problems

The academy is coming to recognize that students learn best when they are applying what they know to real-world problems, when they see the relevance of knowledge inquiry to pressing issues in their home communities, when they view themselves as creators of knowledge, and when they engage in learning through dialogue and deliberation with others. These principles help the academy enact the larger purposes that this volume is calling for, and these principles are driving overall higher education reform today. This all makes it an ideal moment for civic, diversity, and global programs to join forces through their scholarship, pedagogy, and community-based work to illustrate effective ways these principles have been put into practice.

The final overriding educational commitment that all three share is the practice of asking faculty, staff, and students to walk the walk as well as talk the talk. Civic learning takes practice, as does learning about diversity and global knowledge. All three educational spheres have a history of fostering communities of practice. By remapping their relationships to one another, they can more comprehensively offer students the moral and civic rehearsals that will help them become socially responsible and morally anchored in democratic engagements for justice in life's big, messy, urgent questions.

1. For a full report on the initiative's goals and recommendations, see Greater Expectations National Panel 2002. For a more recent iteration of these goals, see National Leadership Council for Liberal Education and America's Promise 2007.

Excerpted from "To Serve a Larger Purpose": Engagement for Democracy and the Transformation of Higher Education edited by John Saltmarsh and Matthew Hartley. Copyright © 2011 Temple University Press. Used by permission of Temple University Press.

"To Serve a Larger Purpose": Engagement for Democracy and the Transformation of Higher Education is available for purchase at your local bookstore, or on the web at www.amazon.com.


Colby, Anne, and William M. Sullivan. 2009. "Strengthening the Foundations of Students' Excellence, Integrity, and Social Contribution." Liberal Education 95 (1): 22–29.

Greater Expectations National Panel. 2002. Greater Expectations: A New Vision for Learning as a Nation Goes to College. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

International Consortium on Higher Education, Civic Responsibility, and Democracy Steering Committee and Representatives from the Council of Europe. 2006. "The Declaration on the Responsibility of Higher Education for a Democratic Culture, Citizenship, Human Rights and Sustainability." Strasbourg, France. Available atwww.internationalconsortium.org/declaration.html.

Knefelkamp, L. Lee. 2008. "Civic Identity: Locating Self in Community." Diversity & Democracy11 (3): 1-3.

Maalouf, AMIN. 2003. In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong. New York: Penguin.

Musil, Caryn McTighe. 2009. "Educating Students for Personal and Social Responsibility: The Civic Learning Spiral." In Civic Engagement in Higher Education: Concepts and Practices, ed. B. Jacoby, 49-68. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

National Leadership Council for Liberal Education and America's Promise. 2007. College Learning for the New Global Century. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities. 

Peters, Scott J., Nicholas R. Jordan, Theodore R. Alter, and Jeffrey C. Bridger. 2003. "The Craft of Public Scholarship in Land-Grant Education." Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement 8 (1): 75-86.

Taylor, Charles, Amy Gutmann, Kwame A. Appiah, Jurgen Habermas, Stephen C. Rockefeller, Michael Walzer and Susan Wolf. 1994. Multiculturalism: Examining the Politics of Recognition.Princeton: Princeton University Press.

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