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The Need

The United States is at a crossroads, as its democratic institutions are under attack. Scholars and think tanks are calling for a massive investment in social studies and civics education to respond to the breakdown of trust in our democratic institutions. What will be the response of higher education?

We argue that we need to develop social action courses by giving undergraduate students the opportunity “to do democracy” and provide first-hand experiences in enacting social change, challenging power, and building inclusive communities. Faculty who have signed up for our Teaching Social Action Institutes tell us that they want to give their students a transformative and empowering experience in social change.

Here are a few of the faculty statements about why teaching social action is necessary at this time:
Dr. Bethany Woodworth U. of New England's School of Marine and Environmental Program


  • "I have discovered that although students care deeply about environmental and social issues, they have been brought up in a society that emphasizes personal action (e.g., recycling, purchasing) rather than how to come together to change exploitative or harmful systems. They are confused and feel powerless to make a difference. I see that they need training, mentoring, and experience in social action to be able to make the changes that they want to see in the world. I have tried to teach social action, but to be honest I think I have been teaching ABOUT social action. We have talked about issues and talked about what they COULD do about them. I've even assigned them to write letters to editors, submit public comments, taken them to legislative hearings and to climate marches. BUT I haven't taught them how to identify an issue and plan and implement a goal of change. This is what I want to do next."

Dr. Meg du Bray, Department of Geography, GIS, & Sustainability, University Northern Colorado

  • "I spent much of the 2023 fall semester mulling on the climate anxiety I saw among my students, particularly those new to the science of climate change. I had begun to consider developing an ongoing series on sustaining climate hope, and was introduced to the Institute on Teaching Social Action. While I am someone who is passionate about social action, it is not something I feel equipped to teach, and I feel strongly that this program can help me gain additional skills in facilitating social action on my campus and with my students."

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