Civic Education & Innovation: About


To engage and equip the next generation of equity-minded, civic agents.


In concert with their overarching academic and post-graduate ambitions, every Grinnell College student will gain the insights and skills necessary to articulate and act upon their civic values and goals in an intentionally self-aware, sustainable, and equitable manner.


Civic Education and Innovation staff members at Grinnell are committed to providing civic learning opportunities that equip students to become equity-minded and innovative civic agents. During their time at Grinnell, students are encouraged to discern, explore, and assess what their civic role might be in any given setting. Through mentored experiential learning opportunities and reflection students gain the self-awareness, skills, and mindsets necessary to become intentional civic agents in an array of arenas. This approach acknowledges our global student body and the fact that communities emerge and govern themselves in many contexts– in one’s family, dorm, neighborhood, workplace, region, nation, etc. Our approach also acknowledges that constructive change-making necessitates the filling of many civic roles.  Some volunteer to make small changes or meet immediate needs. Some make concrete plans for others or manage projects. Some analyze situations or systems. Some take on activist, ally, or advocacy roles, and yet others work to create more equitable systems altogether. Our ecosystem of advising and experiential learning opportunities encourages students to explore and experience while remaining conscious of the impact of the intersections between their community context, their positionality, and their evolving civic interests and capacity. 

Civic Learning Model: Engaged Citizenship in the Context of Larger Change-Making Movements 

Core Civic Values:(Click on a value to learn more)

  • Flourishing CommunityWe place fostering a flourishing community at the center of our service and social innovation work. A flourishing community nourishes an interdependent ecosystem of mutual trust and sustaining, generative care that is shaped by play, compassion, curiosity, friction, support, and rest.
  • Intentional Self-ReflectionSocially just service and social innovation rely upon equitable, power-aware relationships where all parties intentionally seek to understand their own identities, contexts, positionality, and biases. This necessitates continual self-reflection, assessment, and the humility to change.
  • Diversity & InclusionService and social innovation endeavors inevitably entail cross-cultural experiences. Successful endeavors acknowledge the power dynamics at play in the activity and honor the strengths and voices that each participant brings to the table. Power in collaborative service relationships should be balanced in favor of the community and the traditionally oppressed.
  • Collaborative, Power-Aware PartnershipsService and social innovation partnerships should be characterized by mutual trust and respect. To guard against service and social innovation becoming colonialism in the guise of serving the common good, relationships should be characterized by a mutual agency and an ethic of co-creation.
  • ReciprocityService and social innovation endeavors do not only benefit the community. Each party ideally both gives and receives. Every effort should be made to develop relationships where parties honor each other’s needs while also creating an environment that actively acknowledges how each party is both giving and receiving.
  • SustainabilityService and social innovation endeavors should be contextually responsive, well researched, fiscally responsible, personally and interpersonally feasible, and aim toward sustainable positive change. Every effort should be made to understand the larger social, economic, and environmental consequences of proposals and projects and should not only focus on short-term solutions, but also on longer-term, systemic change.

Principles for Anti-Racist Community Engagement

These principles are designed to serve as a resource for faculty & staff who wish to adopt anti-racist pedagogies and practices in their community-engaged classrooms and programs.  The principles were developed by faculty from four Massachusetts public universities as part of a project, “Building on the Cultural Wealth of Minoritized Students: Anti-racist Community-Engaged Programming, Pedagogies, and Practices,” funded by a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education. More about the principles may be found in the book  Anti-Racist Community Engagement.

Authors: Bellinger-Delfeld, D.; Cortezia, W.; Garcia Guevara, A.; Gonsalves, J.; Jackson, A.; Keisch, D.; Krupczynski, J.; Lynch, C.; Malakar, N.; Piazza, A.; Reiff, J.; Risam, R.; Russworm, T.; Santana, C.; Sibeko, L.; Unus, W.; Vincent, C.; Ward, E.; Weiss, D.

  • Recognizes that the burden of anti-racist training cannot rest alone on the shoulders of students and educators of color; white faculty and the institution at large must commit time and focus to developing anti-racist practices and structures.
  • Fosters collaboration with communities that is driven by and responsive to needs identified by community partners rather than overdetermined by perspectives on what needs to be done or how it should be done that emerge from the university.
  • Rejects working “on” to instead working “with” a community positioning community partners as equal partners in the intellectual project, including identifying research questions or problems, and creating solutions.
  • Repudiates ideologies of “white saviorism” or “charity” that position minoritized communities as in need of “saving” or “rescuing” by faculty and students within universities and prepares white students to enter and engage with communities without these mindsets.
  • Decenters whiteness by challenging its construction and through highlighting the wealth of knowledge communities of color possess about their own communities.

  • Raises student and faculty critical consciousness about white supremacy and racism before and during community engagement, through reflective practices about power and privilege – questioning bias and false histories/narratives that justify/legitimize the status quo – in order to build critical understanding of oppression and political efficacy to challenge power and enact systemic change.
  • Critically considers the forms racism and white privilege take in higher education, their impact on knowledge production, and how normative epistemologies affect how we perceive and know the world.
  • Engages in dialogue with community partners to understand their own histories and issues to better support their work and build their capacity to access campus knowledge resources.
  • Recognizes, reflects on, and works toward addressing challenges that minoritized students face on campus alongside working on issues they care about within communities.
  • Acknowledges intersectionality is important to students’ and faculty’s understanding of racial inequity, while maintaining a primary focus on anti-racist goals.

  • Develops specific anti-racist strategies to diversify course content (readings, discussions, assignments) that de-centers whiteness, integrates perspectives that have traditionally been marginalized, and emphasizes intersectional ways in which community-based knowledge production is recognized and valued.
  • Works with community partners to build an understanding of the community in terms of its assets and spoken languages, highlighting the cultural wealth and empowered potential of communities of color.
  • Equips students with a robust understanding of communities with which they will work, including a trauma-informed perspective, through sources that privilege and value the multilingual voices from the community.
  • Involves students and/or community partners in the creation of the syllabus, project, or collaboration and provides opportunities for community/student voice and agency (leadership development, community/student-directed projects in the classroom and community).
  • Develops diverse forms of assessment that best enable students to demonstrate their mastery of course objectives and provides instructors constructive feedback about the effectiveness of their anti-racist teaching practices.

  • Promotes the wellbeing of students, centers the intersections of their identities, and empowers the communities in which they live and/or serv.
  • Provides spaces to respond to microaggressions and difficult conversations in ways that facilitate learning and accountability, as well as providing opportunities for repair and healing.
  • Recognizes the community-based work that minoritized students already undertake, but is not recognized – such as serving as translators for family and friends and helping family and friends navigate bureaucratic challenges with governmental apparatuses.
  • Features collaborative learning that builds on the cultural wealth of minoritized students and creates space for their knowledge and expertise to be applied to solving problems in our communities, without looking to them as “informants” who are expected to speak on behalf of a minoritized community.
  • Decenters higher education and centers the community as an open and reciprocal learning environment.

Overarching Civic Learning Goals:

  1. Students will see themselves as a part of interconnected local communities that they are responsible to and for.
  2. Students will be able to reflect upon and articulate how their civic commitments intersect with their concepts of social justice, long-term change-making, and flourishing community.
  3. Students will learn to navigate and integrate their identities, values, academic interests, and civic work.
  4. Students will take part in equity minded collaboration.
  5. Students will make a practice of continually assessing and prioritizing personal and communal sustainability in their civic activities.

Grinnell’s Girls Who Code group strives to close gender gap in tech jobs

Grinnell College March 29, 2024

The Ragnar Thorisson ’11 Endowed Memorial Fund for Social Justice was used to purchase small, circular robots that can light up and change direction.

After learning coding in all-girl programs growing up, Mia Hines ’24

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How We Move Forward Together: Essie Justice Group

By Gina Clayton-Johnson, January 22, 2024, for Convergence Magazine

Gina Clayton-Johnson, pictured above with students at Saints Rest, was the recipient of our 2017 Grinnell College Innovator for Social Justice Prize. She recently shared the following about a piece she’s …

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The Principles for Equitable and Inclusive Civic Engagement

by Kip Holley, The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at The Ohio State University

Executive Summary

Civic engagement is more than collection of meetings, techniques, and tools. It takes place in an environment made up of …

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