An active citizen is a person who understands the obligation and undertakes the responsibility to improve community conditions, build healthier communities, and address social problems.

He or she understands and believes in the democratic ideals of participation and the need to incorporate the voice, perspective, and contributions of every member of the community.

Which community are we talking about? Any community, be it interest-based, geographic, from local to global or even “virtual.”

In Their Own Words

“My construction experience with Habitat for Humanity allowed me to see the wonderful connections and friendships that can arise from volunteer work.” Mauricio Artinano, LA ’06

“Helping to help build awareness among Chinatown’s residents about neighborhood development issues helped me learn about my own strengths and how I can affect change.” Angela Lee, LA ’07

“Through my work as a University College Scholar, I began to understand that all children’s issues are interconnected in the larger societal context.” Ifeyinwa Mora, A ’04

“University College enabled me to participate in an international conference on AIDS in Thailand, which led to the development of the Tufts HIV AIDS Collaborative.” Zeleka Yeraswork, LA ’05


Lives of Active Citizenship

Robert M. Hollister, Dean of the Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service, first holder of the John DiBiaggio Chair, spoke on “Lives of Active Citizenship,” February 7, 2002, as follows:

Here is a brief summary of the perspective of many Americans on citizenship and public service. What I’m calling the conventional model:

  1. Citizenship is primarily about the behavior of individuals and of groups of individuals.
  2. This activity emphasizes participation in the public or governmental sector.
  3. The focus is more on participation than on the results of that participation.
  4. This conventional view regards citizenship as being a set of separate, discrete activities, activities distinct from our paid jobs and separate from our social interactions.
  5. Finally, citizenship and public service work are seen as what people do in one slice of time.

The civic work of the alumni leaders here today, those here in front and also many of you in the audience, challenges the fading old paradigm. Their experience states, loud and clear:

  1. Citizenship is fundamentally about collective action, which is more than the behavior of individuals and groups. It is about deeper collaboration, about intense joint activity rather than the sum total of individual acts.
  2. Citizenship and public service involve pursuing community issues through work in all sectors. Yes, the role of government is essential, and in fact, is paramount. But citizenship and public service is equally about the role of businesses and of nonprofits in doing public service. The new paradigm celebrates the role of nonprofits and businesses — the role of nonprofits and businesses linking with government, not as a substitute for fundamental governmental responsibilities.
  3. The emerging paradigm contends that civic participation is not an end in itself. The primary focus is on achieving results and creating change. It’s about inventing new processes and organizations as well as about participating in, and reforming, existing ones. Citizenship can and should be active and entrepreneurial. It is all about taking initiative and taking risks. Therefore, active citizenship is results-oriented; it’s about changing the status quo.
  4. Far from being a separate set of behaviors, active citizenship is integrated in all aspects of people’s lives.
  5. Lives of active citizenship are not a string of episodic acts, rather they are a journey, a life-long exploration and quest, a lifelong process of trying out new approaches, and of rethinking and learning. Now to flesh out these themes…