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When Earl Shorris conceived of the Clemente Course more than 20 years ago, he believed an immersion in the humanities would lead people to engage more deeply at every level, from their families to their neighborhoods to their communities.

In our second issue of the Clemente Quarterly, we look at how graduates are using their Clemente experience in their lives and the world. We share the findings of a two-year study, introduce you to a graduate and a professor both seeking community change, and reveal how Clemente led one scholar to view the Declaration of Independence anew. Read on!
Photo of Clemente Veterans Initiative Seattle
Faculty and students from the Odyssey Project in Chicago, one of two courses Charity Anderson observed.

New Study Confirms that Clemente
Fosters Civic Engagement


How do students change after participating in a Clemente Course? Charity Anderson spent two years answering that question. She found that the program’s impact goes beyond simply an appreciation for the humanities or a broadened sense of community. Clemente gives its participants the tools to become involved democratic citizens and more engaged parents.
As a doctoral student in social work at the University of Chicago, Charity was initially interested in studying low-income urban parenting. But after sitting in on a few Clemente sessions, she knew the program would be the focus of her research. “It was unlike any classroom of adults I had seen before, or been a part of,” she writes. “The discussion was complex and layered, the texts were challenging, the teaching was nuanced and thoughtful, and the students were curious and engaged.”
To understand students’ experiences of Clemente, Charity observed two classrooms over two academic years and conducted a total of 150 interviews with students, graduates, and faculty. It is the first long-term study of its kind and offers insight into the unique benefits of participating in a Clemente Course. Among her findings was that Clemente provided students the tools to participate actively as citizens and community members.
“When it comes to citizenship, I was thinking of democracy as a participatory ideal,” she says, “not just how the course would affect their voting. Did the course help them think more critically, imaginatively, and independently? Did it give them more control over their lives and ways to work to improve their lives?”

In short, the answer is yes. Students report thinking more broadly, having more self-confidence, learning to reflect before making decisions, and engaging in the economic, social, and political aspects of their communities. Of the 76 students interviewed, 71 reported that Clemente enabled them to think differently, such as a participant who said, “I’m not on autopilot anymore.” Students who were parents reported getting to “lead by example” and be more closely involved in their child’s education.

Charity reports that all 76 students interviewed affirmed that Clemente had a positive impact on them. They changed jobs, voted more often, volunteered in the community, or pursued additional education. It’s compelling information that left an impression on Charity, who completed her PhD and now works at the Cornwall Center for Metropolitan Studies at Rutgers University. In her new role, she’s hoping to help bring Clemente to Newark.

**Pictured: Charity Anderson, left, with Monique Henry, a student in the Harlem Clemente Course. Charity's study was partly funded by a grant from the Fahs Beck Fund for Research and Experimentation at the New York Community Trust.
Learn More About Clemente
The 2016 graduate of the Clemente Course in Kingston, NY, where she returned as commencement speaker this year, Jewel Walcott now works in the Bard College Office of Development. She’s also committed to making an impact in her community. Last year she organized a Rock the Vote event and she recently piloted a 10-week program to train young people for jobs in the hospitality industry.
Photo of Jean Cheney
In addition to teaching reading cultures in Bridge, the Clemente-inspired program at Antioch University Los Angeles, Rosa Garza-Mourino developed Bridge Service Learning (BSL) in 2011. This yearlong course offers students the opportunity to design and implement community building projects in urban LA, bringing the lens of the humanities to their fieldwork.  
Remembering Sylvia Shorris
It is with deep sadness that the Clemente community marks the death of Sylvia Shorris (1925-2017). Working alongside her husband, Earl, Sylvia was instrumental to the founding of Clemente and helped administrate its first class in 1995. She also worked in the film and publishing industries and co-authored the book, Talking Pictures: With the People who Made Them.
“Sylvia was absolutely committed to Clemente to the end of her life,” says Starling Lawrence, longtime friend and chair of the Clemente Course board. “A wise and ironic caution characterized her dealings with the world. Her friends and family will miss her, but hers was a life well-lived, and she will serve as an inspiration to us in many ways.”
From Clemente to Cuz

Danielle Allen, Director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University and author of the recently released book Cuz, visited the Clemente Course in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston on October 2. A political theorist and Washington Post opinion writer, Danielle is not new to Clemente. She taught in the Odyssey Project in Chicago for a number of years and says the experience inspired her earlier book, Our Declaration

She told students that though she had taught the Declaration of Independence many times, her Clemente students helped her discover new aspects of the Declaration. Traditional undergraduates recognized the historical contexts of the document; Clemente students saw the Declaration as a statement about people changing their lives. Clemente students knew the difference between freedom and tyranny and they saw the “story of agency and empowerment” at the core of the document.

Danielle also shared another secret from her time teaching Clemente. She said she always left the classroom feeling better than when she arrived. The same was true of her visit to Dorchester, scheduled in the middle of a busy book tour. "You must have seen how tired I was when I started," she said, "and now, having shared my story with you, I feel much better and more energized."
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The Clemente Course in the Humanities
Recipient of the National Humanities Medal

The Clemente Course in the Humanities inspires and equips motivated, low-income adults to take charge of their lives. Our year-long program activates students' intelligence, fosters the skills to make informed decisions, and kindles the self-confidence to act upon them. Clemente uses the transformative experience of the humanities to spark a productive change in its students. Since 1996, more than 10,000 students have benefited from the Clemente Course in programs across the U.S., Canada, and  beyond.

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