Diversity & Democracy: Civic Learning for Shared Futures
Diversity Innovations Institutional Leadership and Commitment
Diversity Digest Volume 8, Number 3

Diversity Digest
Volume 8,
Number 3

Download our print issue (PDF)
Curricular Transformation
Shared Futures: Global Learning and Social Responsibility
Recasting Religious Studies at Beloit College
Hybrid Student Identities: A Resource
for Global Learning
Global Education Continuum—
Four Phases
New Global Studies Degree Combines Liberal Arts and Preprofessional Disciplines
Globalizing the Curriculum
Campus-Community Involvement
Student Civic Engagement at Home
and Abroad
Looking Within to See the World
Institutional Leadership
Shared Futures? The Interconnections
of Global and U.S. Diversity
Connecting the Global and the Local: The Experience of Arcadia University
Partnership in Education for a Sustainable Future
Student Experience
Engaging Diversity on the Homogeneous Campus: The Power
of Immersion Experiences
Crossing Borders: Interdisciplinary Centers and Global Learning
Resources for Shared Futures
The Curricular Disconnect

Shared Futures: Global Learning and Social Responsibility

By Kevin Hovland, program director of global initiatives, Office of Diversity, Equity,
and Global Initiatives, AAC&U

What Is Global Learning?

For a liberal education to successfully prepare students to live responsible, productive, and creative lives in a dramatically changing world, it must provide them with global learning opportunities. Ideally, these opportunities challenge students to gain deep knowledge about the world’s people and problems, explore the legacies that have created the dynamics and tensions that shape the world, and struggle with their own place in that world. Global learning at its best emphasizes the relational nature of students’ identities—identities that are variously shaped by the currents of power and privilege, both within a multicultural U.S. democracy and within an interconnected and unequal world. It can, in turn, engage students with some of the most pressing questions of our time: What do we need to know about the world today? What does it mean to be a citizen in a global context? And how should we act in the face of large unsolved global problems?

As historian Thomas Bender (2001) points out, it is through the process of addressing the world’s problems that higher education is transformed. “This is part of the evolutionary process,” he writes. “The questions that determined the shape of the departments and disciplines of one hundred years ago are not the same as those of today.” Of course, global questions, of one sort or other, have always been the subject of academic study. They are also useful frames that can bring coherence to the entire undergraduate learning experience. Global questions require students to connect, integrate, and act—whether they are biology, English, business, or international affairs majors, and whether they study abroad or stay on campus.

AAC&U’s Shared Futures Initiative
Liberal Education and Global Citizenship:
The Arts of Democracy

Participating Institutions
Albany State University, Albany, GA
American University of Paris*, Paris, France
Beloit College, Beloit, WI
CUNY-Brooklyn College, Brooklyn, NY
Heritage University, Toppenish, WA
John Carroll University, University Heights, OH
Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, WA
Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, NY
University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK
University of Delaware, Newark, DE
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Milwaukee, WI

Advisory Board
Grant Cornwell, St. Lawrence University
Jeff Milem, University of Maryland
Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Hamilton College
Janice Monk, University of Arizona
Obioma Nnaemeka, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis
Eve Stoddard, St. Lawrence University

The Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education (FIPSE) in the Department of Education provided a grant of $609,497 to support this project. This represents 62 percent of the total cost of the project with the remaining 38 percent funded by AAC&U.
*Participation of the American University of Paris was made possible through the support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

When the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) designed Shared Futures: Global Learning and Social Responsibility, a multiyear, multi-project initiative, we understood the urgency of global questions as well as the heuristic and organizational value they held for the improvement of undergraduate learning. Through Shared Futures, the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Global Initiatives has worked with colleges and universities to articulate a vision of educational excellence with a strong commitment to global, civic, and democratic engagement. Shared Futures puts to the test AAC&U’s belief that “liberal education has the strongest impact when students look beyond the classroom to the world’s major questions, asking students to apply their developing analytical skills and ethical judgment to significant problems in the world around them” (AAC&U 2002).

  • In this vision, global learning helps students
  • gain a deep, comparative knowledge of the world’s peoples and problems;
  • explore the historical legacies that have created the dynamics and tensions of the world;
  • develop intercultural competencies so they can move across boundaries and unfamiliar territory and see the world from multiple perspectives;
  • sustain difficult conversations in the face of highly emotional and perhaps uncongenial differences;
  • understand—and perhaps redefine—democratic principles and practices within a global context;
  • engage in practical work with fundamental issues that affect communities not yet well served by their societies;
  • believe that their actions and ideas will influence the world in which they live.
    Campus Models of Global Learning

This issue of Diversity Digest reports on campuses that have been putting these ideas into practice through the first funded project of the Shared Futures initiative. This project, Liberal Education and Global Citizenship: The Arts of Democracy, is a curriculum and faculty development network supported by The Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education (FIPSE) in the U.S. Department of Education. Liberal Arts Colleges and Global Learning, a second Shared Futures project that involves a research scan and is funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, also frames the issue.

Liberal Education and Global Citizenship: The Arts of Democracy builds on past reform efforts and unites many strands of recent thinking about liberal education. In the early 1990s, another AAC&U project, Engaging Cultural Legacies: Shaping Core Curricula in the Humanities, encouraged sixty-three institutions to explore what students need to know in a world newly cognizant both of its cultural multiplicity and of its fundamental interdependence. The result was a rethinking of traditional “Civilization” core courses and an explosion of innovative comparative world cultures courses in general education.

Most institutions participating in the Engaging Cultural Legacies project incorporated non-Western perspectives, while far fewer integrated study of U.S. cultural diversity into the global frameworks guiding their curricular reforms. Consequently, another major initiative—American Commitments: Diversity, Democracy, and Liberal Learning—was designed to encourage faculty and administrators to create educational experiences that place knowledge about U.S. diversity in relation to democratic aspirations and values. American Commitments produced a new set of innovative diversity requirements and courses revised to include previously neglected perspectives. By reexamining unresolved questions of oppression and discrimination, American Commitments also helped to restore traditions of democratic engagement and social responsibility to their rightful place in current understandings of liberal education.

These projects—and similar efforts across the country—placed a heavy burden on general education curricula as they sought to introduce students to diversity, global perspectives, and social responsibility while also ensuring the development of basic skills and competencies. Liberal Education and Global Citizenship, on the other hand, focuses on the major as the ideal place where diversity, global perspectives, and social responsibility can be reinforced and integrated at appropriate developmental levels through the study of complex global questions. At the same time, the major allows students to apply their expertise, thus opening the door for democratic practice and social responsibility at the experiential level.

Participating institutions report success ranging from departments that added a global dimension to those that reconceived traditional departmental structures. Beloit’s religious studies department, described in this issue, is one example of such a fundamental shift. Other schools found that the interdisciplinary and integrative nature of global issues made it difficult to confine reform efforts to the major. Several found that planning interdisciplinary global studies minors and majors was a more fruitful strategy when faced with departments and programs that were resistant to change. Nearly all showed great creativity in using global frameworks to link majors to other kinds of curricular innovation: internships, study abroad, service learning, short-term immersion travel experiences, and collaborative general education capstone performances.

The Challenges Ahead

If we are to successfully prepare students to simultaneously thrive in the world they inherit and work to improve it, then we must anticipate the skills and habits of mind that will best serve this purpose. The world is in the midst of profound social, political, economic, and cultural realignments. Systems are being redesigned, relationships renegotiated, and modes of commerce and communication transformed. The problems we face are increasingly defined as global problems: environment and development, health and disease, peace and security, resources and equity, democracy and freedom. Such problems do not respect national borders. Nor do they fit neatly within existing academic disciplines or divisions. We need new
perspectives, new strategies, and new structures—and in fact they are emerging.

A growing percentage of institutions are confirming in their mission statements and strategic plans that global learning is among their fundamental objectives. Students hunger for such learning, but are not yet receiving it as a matter of course. Faculty members are both frustrated and energized by cross-disciplinary and interdisciplinary challenges to departmental norms. A growing number of innovators are recognizing that to make good the promise of global learning, it is necessary to create clear, deliberate, and pervasive pathways for students to deepen their understanding of the world and to translate that knowledge into action. The challenges are many but the rewards great as we build our shared future together.


The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U). 2002. Greater expectations: A new vision for learning as a nation goes to college. Washington, DC: AAC&U.

Bender, Thomas. 2001. Then and now: The disciplines and civic engagement. Liberal Education 87 (1): 6-17.

Questions, comments, and suggestions regarding Diversity & Democracy should be directed to Kathryn Peltier Campbell at campbell@aacu.org.
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