Former Congresswoman Val Demings talks to students during a Common Ground reception.

Hamilton College has joined College Presidents for Civic Preparedness, a consortium designed by the presidents and convened by the Institute for Citizens & Scholars. The group of 61 member institutions from across the country seeks to advance higher education’s role in preparing students to be engaged citizens and to uphold free expression on campus.

With President David Wippman’s endorsement, President-elect Steven Tepper initiated the College’s participation in the consortium. Member institutions are dedicated to:

  • Preparing the next generation of well-informed, productively engaged, and committed citizens;
  • Defending free expression, civil discourse, and critical inquiry as essential civic norms; and
  • Increasing thoughtful engagement and better understanding by students for the effective functioning of our democracy.

Participating presidents will take campus-specific and collective action, reflecting three shared Civic Commitments:

  • Educating for democracy is central to our mission. 
  • Preparing our students for a vibrant, diverse, and contentious society. 
  • Protect and defending free inquiry. 

The commitments stress diversity as a strength of both American democracy and campus life and affirm the truth-seeking role of higher education through curiosity and inquiry. They also enable campus leaders to take substantive action to promote democratic engagement among students, with public accountability for progress through publication of an annual impact report. 

Presidents are developing campus-specific programming to advance the Civic Commitments in 2024, including new courses, outside speakers, student orientations, presidential speeches, technology tools, and voter education initiatives. A complete listing appears on the consortium website. At Hamilton, examples of current programming include:

Common Ground - The multi-format, campus-wide program helps prepare students for lives of active citizenship. Through a partnership with the Bipartisan Policy Center, Common Ground holds curriculum-linked events that bring highly respected thought leaders to campus to discuss hot-button issues through small classroom dialogues and public events.

The Justice Lab – This semester-long interdisciplinary opportunity offers students the opportunity to take a set of four parallel courses focused on a particular topic. The Lab combines academic and experiential learning to study complex societal challenges with practical application in a local context.

Summer Community Impact Fellows - Students gain experience working in public service either through a local municipal or county government internship or a local policy innovation research project.

The member presidents will also undertake together and through the Institute a set of collective actions:

  • Meet regularly for peer learning and the exchange of information, ideas, practices, and tools, including on such topics as the 2024 elections and student activism;
  • Help faculty engage effectively with free expression and civil discourse in the classroom by participating in the Faculty Institute on Dialogue Across Difference; and
  • Create and seize opportunities for shared advocacy and public outreach on civic preparedness in higher education.

“Higher education has a responsibility to provide students with critical civic skills and knowledge to participate effectively in our constitutional democracy,” said Rajiv Vinnakota, president of the Institute for Citizens & Scholars.

College Presidents for Civic Preparedness has been supported by ECMC Foundation, Einhorn Collaborative, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, One8 Foundation, Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, Lumina Foundation, Charles Koch Foundation, and Teagle Foundation, with individual campuses providing support for their own related projects.   

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