Freedom and Citizenship: A Call to Civic Engagement

April Maldonado-Brazil
December 14, 2018

The Freedom and Citizenship college seminar and academic enrichment program is a hidden gem here at Columbia University. The program has raised the bar in developing our next generation of high school students to become “informed, responsible citizens.” Founded in 2009, in partnership with Columbia’s Roger Lehecka Double Discovery Center and the Center for American Studies, Freedom and Citizenship successfully created a program accessible to high school students in low-income communities, introducing them to college level work in the humanities. Students are paired with undergraduate mentors to guide them through the college application process; they are also given the opportunity to get a real feel for campus living through attending a free four-week residential summer intensive seminar course in political philosophy at Columbia.

After completing the summer intensive, they continue their studies during the school year. Students work on civic leadership projects that require them not only to bring their awareness to political problems, but to become active in seeking solutions to them. These high school students research present-day political issues and organize advocacy initiatives with the guidance of Columbia undergraduate teaching assistants. Their projects address a broad range of concerns, including but not limited to domestic violence, human trafficking, immigration, refugees, gentrification, gender equality, and the “school to prison pipeline”; this is where they have begun their initiatives for change.

With an initial grant from the Teagle Foundation, in the first summer of Freedom and Citizenship the program was able to accommodate 15 students. It has since surpassed that number and now serves 45 students per cohort today. Many of the program’s alumni are students and graduates of Columbia University. The Freedom and Citizenship program has successfully formed a Consortium Partnership with Carthage College, Newberry College, and Yale University and continues to encourage other colleges and universities to establish similar programs throughout the United States. If you are interested in supporting the Freedom and Citizenship program at Columbia University, you can learn more at

This article was originally published in the Fall/Winter 2018 issue of The Columbia Newsletter, which is available for download.