Promoting the Humanities in Community Colleges

by Fredrick Douglass Dixon / Sep 23, 2015

Recently, I participated in the Community College Humanities Association and the National Endowment of Humanities co-sponsored three-week summer institute that examined The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade through an alternative lens. This Institute, Slavery in the American Republic: From Constitution to Civil War, provided compelling historical correlations to American slavery and four iconic presidents. The Institute uncovered esoteric information concerning Presidents Washington, Madison, Jefferson and Monroe and their individual approaches to maintaining the slave master and slave relationship. Leading authors William J. Cooper, James Oakes, Peter Kolchin and Paul Finkelman offered an interdisciplinary study of cross-currents of literary, philosophical, religious, and social thinking that drove the institution of slavery. Guided tours of each president’s home supported the themes of the institute. To reinforce intellectual endeavors participants enjoyed exceptional access to the rare collections department at The Library of Congress.

As a former community college administrator and faculty member, I understand the importance of career-technical education (CTE), yet there are many rich opportunities to expand as well as enrich student learning that incorporates the humanities. Increasing numbers of students are earning a degree in a humanities discipline at community colleges. According to Humanities Indicators of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, between 1987 to 2013, the number of associate’s degrees in disciplines classified as being in the humanities rose an average of 4.3% annually increasing from 113,587 to 338,688. Hence, two-year degrees awarded in humanities disciplines have more than doubled, outpacing those conferred at the bachelor’s level.

There are many benefits to a liberal studies education. While the vast attention has been paid to employment outlooks and the demand for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) graduates, there are many myths to be debunked (see 11 Reasons To Ignore The Haters And Major In The Humanities) relative to the career trajectories and mobility of humanities degree recipients.

In sum, the ability to think critically, communicate effectively, and understand historical antecedents that were critical in shaping contemporary contexts is value-added in the workplace. The humanities fosters independent thinking, cogent writing and the ability to frame an argument each of which has direct application in today’s labor market. Interested in learning more about cultivating the humanities in community college contexts? For those interested in engaging with a community of practitioner-scholars that advance the humanities across the curriculum, check out the upcoming Community College Humanities Association (CCHA) National Conference in Phoenix happening November 5-7.

A lifelong resident of Chicago, Fredrick Douglass Dixon is a historical scholar, educator, and community advocate. He is currently a doctoral candidate at The University of Illinois Urbana Champaign’s College of Education. Fredrick is the Co-Chair of the Chicago Council on Black Studies. His research on Histriosis, a paradigm that advances post-traumatic slave disorder (PTSD) has been received well for its unique perspective as well as historical accuracy.He has spoken on this topic at several colleges and universities.  Fredrick endeavors to elevate higher levels of academic excellence within community colleges and in particular for Black collegians.