Reclaiming Democracy is an interdisciplinary course involving students and faculty from six colleges and universities in the Greensboro, North Carolina area–Bennett College, Elon University, Greensboro College, Guilford College, North Carolina A&T State University, and the University of North Carolina at Greensboro–learning and working with community partners. Meeting every other year since 2005, the course explores questions about what democracy means and what it requires of us. It is framed around the idea that democracy depends on the inclusion of members of the community and their many diverse perspectives. Reclaiming Democracy is team-taught by faculty from all the partner institutions, as well as a community co-educator, and the students themselves mirror Greensboro’s racial and ethnic diversity. On the one hand, it serves as an inclusive space to read, talk, and think critically about the challenges affecting the lives of residents in Greensboro. On the other, it places students in multi-institutional teams who work with community partners to tackle significant community issues, such as affordable housing, partisan gerrymandering, and racial equity in public education. More broadly, the class addresses the persistent erosion of democratic norms in the United States, engaging students in analysis of these threats while also offering them opportunities for meaningful change.
In 2019, Reclaiming Democracy became one of the core projects in Bringing Theory to Practice’s PLACE Collaboratory. Funded by a grant from the Mellon Foundation, PLACE (Partnerships for Listening and Action by Communities and Educators) is a network of community-academic partnerships that use the public humanities to engage significant community issues as defined by community voice. As part of the PLACE network, Reclaiming Democracy is working to go beyond the semester boundary of the course and increase student leadership in its ongoing design from year to year. Starting in 2020, course faculty established a “Reclaiming Democracy Academy,” with student fellowships supported by PLACE funding. The Academy brought together students from the campuses to help plan the fall 2021 iteration of the course, develop community organizing skills, and engage fellow students’ interest in the course.