In the fall of 2013, the Utah Humanities Council, partnering with East High School in Salt Lake City, the University of Utah, and Westminster College, launched a pilot Clemente Course in the Humanities at East High with a group of 21 sophomore students from low-income families. Five humanities subjects would be taught over the course of the year—art history, philosophy and writing in the fall; history, literature, and a continuation of writing in the spring. All but the writing course would be taught by college-affiliated professors. Loosely modeled on the Clemente High School course in Chicago, the course’s goal was to excite students about their learning through their humanities study, motivating them to prepare for and plan for college.
Through many discussions, led by Jorge Rojas, with input during the Clemente philosophy class from the philosophy instructor, Patricia Rohrer, a plan began to take shape. The students decided to develop a public art project designed to promote conversation about the diversity of cultures now at East High and the value of that diversity. To reflect the ethnic make-up of East High and, coincidentally, mark the 100thanniversary that the school was celebrating in 2014, the Clemente students decided their project would be comprised of 100 student portraits, with each ethnicity represented proportionately among the posters selected. The project was not conceived by a scholar, nor carefully orchestrated by a humanities council staff, and not, initially, part of a larger, well-coordinated effort. It was the brainchild of a group of teenagers who were aware that minority kids at their school were being ignored.
We Are One offers an example of a new approach to public humanities work, one befitting the 21st century. Organic, grassroots, intentionally temporary but with an impact that is likely to endure, We Are One is an example of the public humanities as a catalyst, igniting conversations and other projects out of the control or domain of the original partnership. We Are One demonstrates the value of “seizing the moment” when it comes to using the humanities to effect long-lasting positive change in communities.
Judges extolled this project as a “very effective way of using the humanities to address the racial divide and foster understanding between peoples and cultures.”
This program won a Schwartz Prize in 2014 for outstanding work in the public humanities. To view the full nominating statement please click here.