From its launch in 1887 amidst the rapid industrialization, urbanization, and social dislocation of the post-Civil War era, Pratt Institute has embodied extraordinarily progressive values in almost every discipline, admitting students regardless of class, race, and gender, and offering art classes early on to children from the surrounding community. The Pratt Center for Community Development was launched during the economic uncertainty and civil strife of the mid-1960s to help community groups rebuild and revitalize their neighborhoods. Today, faculty and student commitment to civic engagement is reflected throughout Pratt, both in well-established networks and programs such as the Global South Center and the Social Justice/Social Practice minor and in the innumerable efforts of individual teachers and students.
We now face not only widening economic and racial inequalities, but also widespread attack on fact-based inquiry and rational decision making, fundamental building blocks of education and democracy. For Pratt to remain intellectually and ethically relevant, we must prepare scholars and designers to contribute to the social compact and leverage creative practice to build a more equitable and sustainable world. And as part of the economic and social engine that has transformed our neighborhood into a new, creative economy, we must address the unintended consequences of displacement and unequal participation, particularly for people of color.
Expanding the school’s commitment to civic engagement and societal benefit will advance Pratt’s standing as a world-class institution, bringing unparalleled opportunity for interdisciplinary and collaborative learning, and attracting faculty and students who share our sense of urgency and purpose. We must work with our neighbors to model new ways an academic institution can collaborate to create a more equitable, inclusive, and sustainable community. We need to take action as bold as that of founder Charles Pratt, not only opening our doors to all people, but inviting them in.
- Ensure that a culture of civic ethos governs campus life. In accordance with the findings of the National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement (organized by the Association of American Colleges and Universities), we will create an Office of Civic Engagement (OCE) that will support faculty, students, and staff in their efforts to incorporate civic and community-based service learning into their teaching, research, and personal development, as well as in their efforts to build and sustain relationships with the broader community. To position Pratt as a leader in civic engagement, the OCE will develop an infrastructure that allows the Institute to realize fully its longstanding commitment to civic engagement by tracking all related activities, measuring their impacts, working with Institutional Advancement and the Provost’s office to raise funding, and facilitating internal and external communications, while also ensuring that civic engagement is embedded in the Pratt mission and vision.
- Establish civic literacy as a learning goal and ensure that every student acquires it. We will cultivate Pratt students’ knowledge of the fundamental concepts of human rights and governance, their familiarity with key historical developments and social movements, and their ability to think critically about complex matters that have public consequences. We will assess existing coursework and co-curricular activities for their contribution to civic literacy, sustaining and expanding curricular and co-curricular opportunities for civic engagement, and supporting departments and schools across the Institute in developing discipline-appropriate learning outcomes. We will institute a process for recording civic literacy activities and accomplishments on the graduation transcript, followed in time by an assessment of whether civic engagement should be made a graduation requirement.
- Support civic inquiry throughout the Institute. The practice of civic inquiry should be pervasive within Pratt’s curriculum, including the exploration of the personal, social, and environmental impact of choice; the consideration of differing views; and the exercise of civic debate and analysis within one’s areas of study. We will support community-based research, teaching, and engagement by faculty and staff, while also taking civic engagement into consideration in promotions, tenure decisions (if appropriate and requested by faculty), and the hiring of new faculty. To facilitate and promote course development and activities with civic outcomes, and to recognize ongoing community-based research, pedagogy, and engagement, we will provide support in the form of release time, grants, and awards.
- Instill a sense of agency and commitment for life-long civic action. The capacity for collective work, coupled with the ability to prepare analytically and the moral and political courage to take risks for the greater good, is essential to addressing our shared problems around life quality and sustainability. We will expand Pratt’s client-based studio work with community groups and organizations, with an emphasis on building long-term, sustainable partnerships. We will develop opportunities for knowledge and resource exchanges with community-based organizations, as well as K-12 initiatives around civic engagement, scholarship, and pedagogy that will create a pipeline of engaged Institute students. By increasing the permeability of the campus, we will bring in more community members, allowing greater collaboration, and by creating new, service-based opportunities for alumni, we will open a new pathway for community engagement.