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Civic Semester US Southwest

Program Themes

Our Southwestern United States program focuses on issues of environmental sustainability, indigenous sovereignty and immigrant rights. Through both academic coursework and by learning from and supporting local community organizations, students in the program grapple with complex environmental and social concerns, and connect classroom discussions with hands-on projects.

Program Location

The Southwest is composed of richly diverse landscapes and histories, and students learn about the land and the complex cultural narratives of communities across the region.

The program begins in Tucson, Arizona, where students participate in orientation before moving into their first program base. In a region known for wide valleys, saguaro cacti, and a variety of plants and animal species, the first half of the program focuses on border issues,  land conservation, and environmental justice. Mid-way through the program, students embark on a camping trip on their way to their second home base near Santa Fe in northern New Mexico, situated at 7,000 feet in the foothills of the southern Rocky Mountains. There, students explore issues of land and water usage; sustainable farming practices and food systems; and indigenous peoples, land, and settler colonialism, while also continuing to expand their learning on the theme of immigration. Students spend their final week at a beautiful retreat in northern New Mexico, exploring new landscapes while reflecting on their semester-long journey and preparing to return home.

Academic Coursework

At the core of the Civic Semester experience are five for-credit Tufts University courses. Selected and designed specifically for the program, they give participants a strong academic context for the issues and communities they explore, and provide a foundation for their development into civic leaders. Instead of large first-year lectures, students enjoy the quintessential college seminar experience in which 10-12 students can engage in substantive discussions with their professors and with each other on issues like environmentalism, immigration, Latinx history and culture, civic engagement, and equity and social change.

The courses are:

  • HIST 82: Latinx History: Race, Migration, Empire: This course unpacks the complex historical roots and contexts of Latinx communities in the U.S., with a focus on the 20th century. Students will investigate historical forces of colonization, displacement, and racism, as well as Latinx movements that have been built in response to these forces.
  • ANTH 24: Anthropology of the Environment: This course provides an overview of intellectual debates in Environmental Anthropology across the 20th and 21st centuries, with an emphasis on the shifting human place in nature amidst our current epoch of global ecological crises. Topics include human adaptation and environmental determinism, resource extraction and capitalist natures, species extinction and biodiversity, and environmental racism and justice.
  • ENV 05: Environmental Studies Lecture Series: Featuring presentations on environmental topics by speakers from government, industry, academia, and nonprofit organizations, this course will introduce students to a wide range of environmental issues. Through watching lectures, group discussions and reflective writing, students will build on their knowledge and consider additional environmental topics which they may wish to explore.
  • CVS 45: Civic Semester Pathways: Through a collaborative exploration of research and practice on civic engagement, racial equity, and socioemotional well-being, students will build skills and knowledge of best practices in civic engagement that will allow them to be effective change agents during their Civic Semester experience and beyond.
  • CVS 95: Community Change in Action: This reflective seminar will provide an academic framework for the learning that students do on the ground with community organizations. Through readings, writing, and discussion, students will analyze their civic engagement work throughout the program and discover connections between the theory and practice of social change.

Program Experience

Beyond coursework, students engage with and support local community organizations in their work, participate in workshops and seminars about global citizenship and identity, and explore the natural environment through excursions and camping trips. The Civic Semester is designed to be a holistic learning experience in which learning happens in and out of the classroom. Students make connections between academics, civic engagement, and personal identity, and they leave the program with an expansive approach to learning and to making a difference that transforms the rest of their college experience. Learn more about the Civic Semester Southwest experience on our blog.

Learning from nonprofits and collectives is the heart of the Civic Semester experience and provides students with real world examples of civic engagement in action. Visits with organizations often include in-depth discussions with staff and program leaders about the work they do and why as well as hands-on projects that support the organization. Whether students are harvesting vegetables at community farms, canvassing neighborhoods to promote workshops and events, helping to paint and refurbish a vital space, or providing clerical support for a law office supporting immigrants, we seek to build reciprocal and supportive relationships with every organization we work with, and to find meaningful ways for our students to make an impact. Examples of the types of organizations students will engage with include an advocacy group supporting a humanitarian response to issues at the U.S. Mexico border; an environmental organization promoting healthy landscapes, conservation, ecological restoration, and community resilience; and a collective run by indigenous women focused on supporting indigenous communities, including both human and environmental health.

The cohort experience is central to the Civic Semester program, as students develop deep connections with one another and their instructors. Program houses offer comfortable group living with shared bedrooms and ample indoor and outdoor spaces for the group to gather, whether for movie night or virtual class sessions. Living in a collaborative community setting, students work toward academic and personal goals and explore complex issues—together. And though the Civic Semester ends in December, its impact continues far beyond. Students participate in a retreat at the start of the spring semester to support their transition to campus and reconnect with each other. They also engage with the broader First-Year Global Program (FYGP) alumni community through on-campus events. For many FYGP alumni, their program peers remain their closest friends, and that community is a vital support system during their four years at Tufts and beyond.

Program Calendar and Sample Schedule

While the in-person Civic Semester program runs during the regular fall semester schedule, students take summer courses before their arrival in the Southwest. This not only prepares students with important academic content, but also supports their learning during the semester by freeing up more time to explore and engage in local communities.

Dates are approximate, and subject to change as we finalize program plans.

  • July 6 & 7: Civic Semester Orientation Part I (virtual)
  • July 10 - August 23: Summer courses in Latinx History and Civic Semester Pathways (virtual synchronous classes until August 18, final week in person)
  • August 18: Arrive to campus for last week of class & Civic Semester Orientation Part II (in person, on campus)
  • Late August: Pre-Orientation, New Student Orientation (in person, on campus)
  • September 1/2: As a group, fly to Arizona to meet your Where There Be Dragons instructors and begin group programming and hands-on community work
  • September 5 - December 11: Anthropology of the Environment, Community Change in Action, Environmental Studies Lecture Series (virtual and hybrid) 
  • Late September: Excursion 1
  • Late October: Excursion 2
  • Late November: Excursion 3
  • December 1/2: Students depart for home
  • December 14 - 21: Final Exams
  • January 17: Spring semester classes begin
  • January 20 - 21: Civic Semester retreat (in-person, on campus)
  • Spring 2024: Monthly cohort gatherings

The Tufts Civic Semester is designed to be responsive to the needs of the communities with which students interact. As the cohort explores different themes and topics, engages with various community organizations and experiences new landscapes, no two weeks of the semester are the same. In addition, the 2023 program must be flexible due to conditions on the ground related to COVID-19 and other factors. This sample weekly schedule gives you an example of what a week in the program could look like:

  • Tuesday – Thursday: Coursework & Home-Based Activities. Students attend virtual courses with Tufts professors on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, have independent time for studying and course-related discussions, and engage in hobbies or independent activities near or in the group home. Throughout the program, students also share cooking and meal-planning responsibilities, learning about and preparing local cuisine with an emphasis on food systems, sustainability, and engaging in the history and stories that surround different foods and culinary practices.
  • Friday - Monday: Hands-On Community Projects & Excursions. When they don’t have class, students engage with community organizations whose work is related to course themes and explore their new environments. 1-2 days a week are normally spent learning from and supporting the work of local organizations. Visits normally last from about 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., with afternoons open for group discussions, check-in meetings, weekly food planning in meal groups, group activities (such as dance classes or sports), or independent time. Group excursions offer opportunities to discover and enjoy the natural world. By exploring regional and state forests, parks, and/or monuments, we invite our students to engage with nature throughout the program. All activities are designed to be accessible regardless of comfort or skill level and absolutely no prior outdoor experience is necessary.

As with all international programming we must be flexible in our planning, and all programmatic elements and courses are subject to change.

On-Site Staff

We’re proud to work with Where There Be Dragons, an organization with more than 25 years of experience crafting and leading service experiences for students around the world. The mission of Dragons is to cultivate meaningful connections through immersive and responsible travel. With a focus on self-exploration, skill-building, and global engagement, Dragons programs seek to nurture empathy and understanding through authentic cultural exchange, with the goal of helping participants develop the self-awareness and cross-cultural competencies to be active participants in the world. The organization’s emphasis on ethical travel and service, as well as social justice, informs all of their programming and promotes valuable experiences for all students.

Two Dragons instructors manage the program on the ground, living in the group accommodation, leading activities and excursions, facilitating curriculum and group reflections, and supporting students throughout the semester experience.

Health & Safety

Our programs are built with safety and risk management at the forefront. Dragons staff support students with any medical care that is needed throughout the program. Program instructors guide students on local safety and health risks and support an environment focused on responsible decision making and accountability. Students live in a secure home with program instructors, and are required to carry a local cell phone so they can always reach instructors at any time.

We continue to adjust COVID protocols and interactions with local organizations and communities based on federal and local public health information and guidance. Our first priority will always be the health and safety of our students, instructors, and those in our host communities.

Eligibility & How to Apply

Interested students can complete the Tufts Civic Semester application from their Tufts applicant portal. We are offering three deadlines to coincide with Tufts admissions cycles.

  • Students admitted through Early Decision I can apply by January 20 for early admission I.
  • Students admitted through Early Decision I or II can apply by February 24 for early admission II.
  • Students admitted through Regular Decision (or Early Decision) can apply by our final deadline of May 12.

We will consider applications leading up to our final deadline on a rolling basis, and invite interested students to apply early.

The application asks students to submit a brief paragraph to share more about themselves and their interest in the program. Finalists are invited to participate in online interviews. Neither an application nor acceptance to Tufts Civic Semester represents a binding commitment, and we invite all interested students to apply.

Due to degree restrictions, only incoming students in the School of Arts & Sciences, not including BFA, SMFA and NEC combined degree students and participants in the BLAST program, are eligible to apply.

Questions? Please contact us at

Two students smiling at the camera while working outdoors

Ben, A25

School of Arts and Sciences
This has been a life-changing program. I’m coming home with a whole new perspective, and I can’t really imagine starting my Tufts experience any other way. I feel like I've grown and seen way more than I ever could in a normal first semester on campus."