Race in America

Then and Now

Explore the roots of racism from slavery, to the Civil Rights Movement, to current movements for racial and environmental justice. Meet with community leaders and organizers working for justice.

Currently accepting applications for summer 2021.

Program Structure

This is a four-six credit course (depending on your institution) taught in a 21-day period, so students should expect their days to be full and their workload to be heavy. There are a few partially unscheduled days during the course, but for the most part, students devote their days to class activities and nights to completing readings and assignments individually and with classmates. During field trips to other cities, and during several days in Jackson, there are planned evening activities such as community meetings, dinner with field speakers, and other events.

Topics & Themes

racial justice, history of the Civil Rights movement, racism and white supremacy in America, community organizing and advocacy, environmental justice


Jackson, Mississippi

Terms & Dates

Summer 2021


6 credits

Program Overview

How are ordinary people moved to extraordinary action? The Black Freedom Movement (also known as the Civil Rights Movement) of the 1950s and 60s, and more recent movements such as Black Lives Matter offer fertile ground for exploration of this question. Students examine multiple movements for racial and economic justice as they journey into the painful history of white supremacy in the United States. A significant portion of the program focuses on the history of the Black Freedom Movement. Students hear first-person accounts from movement leaders integral to organizing campaigns in Mississippi and other parts of the South. Field visits to sites such as Mississippi’s new Civil Rights Museum, the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama, Whitney Plantation in Louisiana and the National Civil Rights Museum in Tennessee deepen historical knowledge and offer models for activism and engagement. Students are introduced to a new generation of leaders building upon this legacy, and their work around education, criminal justice reform, voting rights, environmental justice, and grassroots cooperative economics. Students leave the program with a profound understanding of past and current movements for justice, new lenses with which to examine issues of power and privilege, and a deepened understanding of their own capacity to make change.

Staff and Faculty

Lena Jones

Program Director Lena Jones directs HECUA’s summer program Race in America: Then and Now. Additionally, she is a full-time political science faculty member at Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC), where she has been teaching since 2002. Lena is active in several civic engagement initiatives and is part of a core team that received a 2006 Minnesota Campus Compact/Minnesota Office of Higher Education grant to create a Center for Civic Engagement at MCTC. In addition to her interest in and experience teaching about civil rights and social change in the US context, Lena has also participated in research projects exploring racism, immigration, and social movements in Western Europe and South Africa. Lena received a fellowship from the University of Minnesota’s Human Rights Center to support a residency with the Institute for Democracy in South Africa (IDASA) where she participated in IDASA’s efforts to institute civic engagement projects in the Gauteng province. While in South Africa, she also took part in grassroots democracy-building efforts aimed at gaining access to water and fighting xenophobia and discrimination. During Spring Semester 2009, she led HECUA’s Divided States of Europe: Globalization and Inequalities in the New Europe program in Oslo Norway.   In 2013, Lena was awarded a two-year Bush Leadership Fellowship. She explored concrete ways for colleges and universities to build effective, reciprocal and lasting partnerships with community organizations and governments in order to support the development of students into leaders equipped with the knowledge, skills and experience needed to tackle the challenges faced by low-income communities and communities of color in the Twin Cities.

Teaching and Learning with HECUA Students

To me, teaching political science is a lot like teaching drumming.  I can certainly teach a good amount about drumming through assigning readings, lecturing, and showing videos about technique, the different types of drums, and the different styles of drumming.  However, to truly teach my students how to drum, I need to make my students actually hold a drum and hear and feel the sensation of a hand or a stick hitting the skin of the drum.  The same could be said about teaching about politics, power, and social change.  I have found that my most profound experiences teaching have been the ones where I, with my students, have seen, heard, and touched the things that were being taught.  Since 2006, I have taught this course on movements for civil rights in America past and present —a course filled with profound moments where my students and I get to experience the places and talk to the people who we have read about, heard about, or seen in a video, relate the theories that we’ve learned to lived experiences, and grapple with how past struggles relate to the present and our own lives.

My Research and Current Projects

For as long as I can remember, I have had an intellectual and personal interest in the efforts of political communities to define who and what they are, the conflicts brought about by these efforts, and the factors that drive ordinary people to recognize and utilize their power to bring about extraordinary change. My interest in these issues extends beyond the United States.  While I was a study abroad student in Denmark during the summer of 1993, I became fascinated by the struggles over national identity in Denmark and other European countries in the context of European integration and increasing numbers of immigrants and refugees who were perceived by the host populations as being a “threat.”  I also became fascinated by the efforts of individuals and organizations from those groups that were perceived as “threatening” to find a voice and a sense of agency in Europe.  Since that summer, I have participated in research projects analyzing immigration and refugee policy, the political organizing efforts of immigrant communities, and public opinion and political discourse about immigration in Europe. My fascination with nation-building later took me to Africa and in 2004, I received a fellowship from the University of Minnesota’s Human Rights Center to support a residency with the Institute for Democracy in South Africa (IDASA).  It was an amazing experience to be in South Africa during the 10th Anniversary of its first free elections and participate in IDASA’s efforts to institute civic engagement projects in the Gauteng province.  While in South Africa, I had the privilege of working with and learning from local grassroots activists who were organizing efforts in their communities to gain access to running water and fight xenophobia and discrimination. My interest in the efforts of ordinary people to change their worlds brought me further north to Somalia in July 2006.  There, I was able to see, first hand, the efforts of individuals to rebuild a country after a devastating civil war and government collapse.  One of those individuals was a former student of mine who successfully raised the money and community support to build a library and resource center in Garowe, Somalia. Back in the United States, I am part of a team of faculty at Minneapolis Community and Technical College (MCTC) that received a Minnesota Campus Compact grant to create a Center for Civic Engagement whose goals include increasing the number and quality of experiential learning opportunities at that institution.  From January – December 2008, I was also the director of the Somali Student Ambassador Project, a civic engagement program of the Minneapolis League of Women Voters and Somali Family Services that trains Somali college students to create and implement non-partisan civic engagement projects in the Twin Cities. In addition, I am currently serving as the Faculty Coordinator of MCTC’s Community Development Degree Program. This program is part of the Community Learning Partnership, a national initiative to connect post-secondary institutions with grassroots groups, organizers, and educators to create new educational pathways into community change careers.

Presentations and Publications


  • “Community College Civic Missions, Practices, and Outcomes: Research Perspectives from Five TDC Institutions.” (Summer 2013 – Spring 2014)
  • Member of research team that produced a 2014 report for the Center for Community Colleges and the Kettering Foundation.  The results of the project were published in a 2014 Center for the Study of Community Colleges/Kettering Foundation report and a special issue of New Directions for Community Colleges (March 2016)
  • “Racism at the Top” research project, University of Amsterdam, University of Vienna, and the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education, Science, and Culture  (Spring 1997-Fall 1999).  Member of a multinational research team that examined parliamentary discourse related to immigration in six Western European countries.  The results of the project were presented to the European Parliament and published in a book titled Racism at the Top (Drava Verlag, 2000).

Conference Presentations

  • Panelist, “Preparing Our Students to be Community Organizers,” 2015 ADP/TDC/NASPA Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement Meeting, 6 June 2015, New Orleans, LA.
  • Co-presenter, “Turning Jobs into Public Work,” 2014 ADP/TDC Civic Summit: Realizing the Civic Mission of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, 29 September 2014, St. Cloud State University, St. Cloud, MN.
  • Panelist, “Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement in Community Colleges: A Forthcoming Volume in New Directions for Community Colleges,” Council for the Study of Community Colleges Annual Conference, 11 April 2015, Ft. Worth, TX.
  • Facilitator, “Opening Plenary: Forging Civic Pathways on Our Campuses and in Our Communities: Helping Students Navigate and Succeed in Higher Education,” American Democracy Project/The Democracy Commitment Annual Meeting, 5 June 2014, Louisville, KY.
  • ·       Co-presenter, “Developing Educational Pathways into Community Change Careers: The Community Learning Partnership,” American Democracy Project/The Democracy Commitment Annual Meeting, 6 June 2013, Denver, CO.
  • Co-presenter, “Bridging Community Development and Community Organizing.”  Neighborhoods USA Conference, 23 May 2013, Minneapolis, MN.
  • Co-Presenter, “Assessment in the Trenches: Strategies for Measuring Global Learning Gains,” AAC&U Shared Futures: General Education for a Global Century Summer Institute, 3 August, 2011, Ellicott City, MD.
  • Presenter, “Effectively Involving Faculty in Institutional Change for Student Success,” MnSCU Promising Practices for Student Success 2011 Conference, 25 February, 2011, Minneapolis Community and Technical College.
  • Panelist, “Tackling the Cutting Edge Issues of Student Success: Proven and Promising Strategies for Engaging Faculty” Achieving the Dream 2011 Strategy Institute “Equity and Excellence” 8-11 February, 2011, Indianapolis, Indiana
  • Panelist, “An Intergenerational Conversation about Civil Rights,”  Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: Youth of Today Create Tomorrow’s Change Conference, 7 November 2008, University of Minnesota—Twin Cities.
  • Panelist, “Institutional Investment in Civic Agency: Experience from the Field”  Civic Agency Initiative Kick-off Institute, 6 November 2008, Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota.
  • Presenter, “Somalia– Diaspora to Partnership” The U.S. Institute of Peace’s Identity and Global conflict: Implications for the 21st Century Conference, 20 April 2007, Northern Virginia Community College.
  • Panelist, “Public Achievement and Civic Engagement: The Public Work of Higher Education”, Mnscu/CTL Realizing Student Potential Conference, 27 February 2004, Minneapolis Community and Technical College.
  • Panelist, “Public Work as Institutional Change,” Public Work in Higher Education: Theory and Practice of Civic Engagement, 19 March 2004, Humphrey School of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota.
  • “Immigration, Corporations and Democracy.” Presented at Vanishing Democracy: Challenging Corporate Power Conference, 29 March 2003, First Universalist Church, Minneapolis, MN.
  • “Closing the Floodgates: the discourse of migration, security and race in Britain.”  Presented at Race, Ethnicity, and Migration: the United States in a Global Context, 16-18 November 2000, University of Minnesota.
  • “Anti-racism and Diversity Politics in Western Europe.”  Presented at Discourse and Racism: an issue for Critical Discourse Analysis, 14-16 May 1998, University of Vienna.
  • “The EU and National Discourses on Immigration.”  Presented at Space and Identity: Borders, margins, migration in late Twentieth-Century Europe, 20-21 February 1998, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
  • “An analysis of public opinion on immigration in Western Europe.”  Presented at International Governance in an Era of Change, 26-29 June 1995, University of Tübingen.


  • “Bridging the Workforce and Civic Missions of Community Colleges.” New Directions for Community Colleges, Spring 2016.
  • “Foreigner and Asylum policies in Western Europe: an overview of the political systems and laws on immigration and asylum in six EU states.” Racism at the Top: Parliamentary Discourses on Ethnic Issues in Six European States.  Teun A. Van Dijk and Ruth Wodak (Eds.).  Klagenfurt: Drava Verlag, 2000.
  • “Immigration and Parliamentary Discourse in Great Britain: an analysis of the debates related to 1996 Asylum and Immigration Act.”  Racism at the Top: Parliamentary Discourses on Ethnic Issues in Six European States. Teun A. Van Dijk and Ruth Wodak (Eds.).  Klagenfurt: Drava Verlag, 2000.
  • Author of Instructor’s Manual for W. Phillips Shively’s Power and Choice: an introduction to political science, 8th , 9th and 10th Editions (McGraw-Hill, 2002, 2004, 2006)


Race in America: Then and Now

This class is taught as one six credit course. Recent  years have seen the birth of a new civil rights movement in the United States. The tragic deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, and other unarmed black men and women spurred powerful protests across the nation. Race in America: Then and Now examines racial justice in America today, and the continuing role of race in the United States. Through field experiences, readings, videos, and class discussions, students journey into the United States’ painful history of racial oppression and examine past and current struggles for racial equity in America. Our program’s goals:

  • Examine the historical foundations of racial oppression in the United States.
  • Explore the philosophies, practices, and historical implications of the Black Freedom Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, also known as the Civil Rights Movement.
  • Understand current manifestations of racial oppression in the United States and current efforts to challenge them.
  • Explore key theories of social movements and social change and relate them to the course field experiences, readings, and their own lives.
  • Examine one’s own position in systems of power and one’s role as an agent of social change.

Complete Syllabus


This program does not offer internships.

Program Costs

Fee Breakdown: Program fees include round trip airfare to and from Jackson, Mississippi, ground travel to field sites, food, lodging, reading materials, and medical insurance. For more complete information regarding program costs and fee breakdowns, click here.

Member Schools

Member schools are schools that are part of the HECUA consortium. To check your school’s status, click here.

Program Costs:

In 2021: $4,500

Non-member Schools

Non-member schools are schools that are not part of the HECUA consortium. To check your school’s status, click here.

Program Costs:

In 2021: $4,900


Students enrolled in the Race in America program are eligible to apply for $500 Scholarships for Community Engagement. Click here to apply for a Scholarship for Community Engagement.

Good to know

The program is based in Jackson, Mississippi, and students reside in dormitories on the campus of Jackson State University, one of America’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Mississippi typified the “Deep South” during the era of Jim Crow, and in many ways continues to be racially and politically divided. In and near Jackson and during trips to Alabama, Tennessee, and the Gulf Coast (including New Orleans), students also explore current issues related to health, education, culture, and community organizing. Lodging on the road will be in hotels or on other college/university campuses.

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