Citizens Thinkers Writers
Bryan Garsten, Professor of Political Science and Humanities
Starting the Citizens Thinkers Writers program has been one of the highlights of my professional life. I had been working hard on helping to create Yale-NUS College in Singapore, an exciting initiative, but as my role in that project ended, I found myself wanting to focus much closer to home. I grew up in the New Haven area, and saw how scientists at Yale were encouraged to engage with the local community through the requirements of their NSF grants. Why didn't more humanists do the same? Inspired by Columbia's Freedom and Citizenship program, and lucky to find two fantastic partners on campus, I pitched the idea, found some resources, and we dove in. Working with aspiring first-generation college students in New Haven has transformed my understanding of the potential in seminar discussions. Such a simple activity -- reading fundamental texts and talking about them around a table -- brings shy, thoughtful students out of their shells. Many of our students come in thinking of their thoughtfulness mainly as a social liability. Our program teaches them to be proud of their reflective nature, and to take the risk of sharing their thoughts in conversation and in writing. And I have learned a lot from our conversations. I have grown more attuned to the presumptions of meritocracy and I have developed a better understanding of the intrinsic value of the humanities. I also feel my life has been enriched by the relationships we have formed with teachers, principals, police officers, artists, poets, local politicians, NGO leaders, and others in the community who have happily collaborated with us on programming for our students. I am more convinced than ever that universities have an obligation to develop substantive relationships with their home communities and to help create spaces for reflection and discussion, and that doing so will bring benefits to both the community and the university.