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Tufts Civic Semester

Tisch College and Tufts University offer incoming students the opportunity to participate in the Tufts Civic Semester, a transformational first-semester program that combines academic and experiential learning with a focus on community engagement and social and environmental justice. Based in the Southwestern United States, participants join a small cohort of 10-12 peers to create a living and learning community to engage deeply with issues of sustainability and immigrant rights through coursework and by supporting local community organizations. With programming focused on building a civic identity and civic skills for promoting equity and justice, Civic Semester participants return to the Tufts campus with a network of deep friendships, a stronger sense of self, and a clearer understanding of how they want to have an impact during their time at Tufts and beyond. All program costs are covered by regular tuition and fees and applicants to the program can utilize their Tufts financial aid package.

The 2021 program will be a unique version of our usual Civic Semester, which has been adapted due to the COVID-19 pandemic and developed in consultation with public health experts to prioritize the safety of all participants and community members. Learn more below and use the box on the right to apply by May 14.

Program Location

view of New MexicoThe 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 northern New Mexico, where students participate in orientation before traveling to the first program base in Santa Fe, 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 beginning to explore the theme of immigration. Midway through the program, the group follows the Rio Grande River basin south towards the U.S./Mexico border. During an extended excursion to El Paso, Texas, students focus more intently on immigration and learn from Texas-based organizations. The second half of the semester is based in Southern New Mexico near the Arizona border, with opportunities to discover the greater Tucson area. In a region known for wide valleys, saguaro cacti, and a variety of plants and animal species, students deepen their learning about border issues and  land conservation, and environmental justice. Students spend their final week in a different area of Arizona - 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:

  • Latinx History (Prof. Adrian Cruz): 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.
  • Anthropology of the Environment (Prof. Alex Blanchette): 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.
  • Civic Semester 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.
  • Civic Semester Pathways (Prof. Deborah Donahue-Keegan and Current Student Co-Instructor): 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.
  • Civic Semester Internships for Social Change: 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

student overlooking riverBeyond 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 (virtual) 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.

The cohort experience is central to the Civic Semester program, as students develop deep connections with one another and their instructors. 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 prepare for their transition to campus and to reconnect with each other. They also engage with the broader First-Year Global Program (FYGP) alumni community through monthly workshops and 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.

See the program calendar below, which is subject to slight changes as Tufts confirms its 2021-2022 orientation and academic calendar.

  • July 7-8: Civic Semester Orientation (virtual, hours TBD)
  • July 12 -August 20: Latinx History and Civic Semester Pathways (virtual synchronous classes Monday-Wednesday, 6-9pm ET)
  • Late August: Preparing for Departure session (virtual)
  • Late August: FOCUS Pre-Orientation (virtual)
  • September 1-6: Orientation (virtual)
  • September 6: Arrive in New Mexico to meet your cohort and Where There Be Dragons instructors and begin group programming and hands-on community work across the Southwest
  • September 8 - December 14: Anthropology of the Environment, Civic Semester Internships for Social Change, Environmental Studies Lecture Series (virtual and hybrid) 
  • December 5: Students depart for home
  • December 16 - 23: Final Exams
  • January 19: Spring semester classes begin
  • January 22-23: Civic Semester retreat (in-person, on campus)
  • Spring 2022: Monthly cohort events and workshops

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 2021 program must be flexible due to conditions on the ground related to COVID-19 and other factors. This sample itinerary gives you an example of what a week in the program could look like:

  • student cooking with host familyMonday – Wednesday: Coursework & Home-Based Activities. Students attend virtual courses with Tufts professors on Mondays and Wednesdays, 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. While formal language classes are not a part of the program and no Spanish knowledge is required, students will have the opportunity to practice Spanish, learn from Spanish-speakers, and better understand the importance of the Spanish language to the region’s identity.
  • Thursday – Friday: Hands-On Community Projects & Environmental Lectures. When they don’t have class, students engage with community organizations whose work is related to course themes. For example, students spend time with an environmental organization in Arizona focused on supporting healthy landscapes, conservation, ecological restoration, and community resilience. In New Mexico, they’ll engage with an education and advocacy group focused on ensuring border communities have access to the outdoors and that the history and values of people from these communities are reflected in public lands management. Work normally lasts from about 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., with afternoons open for group discussions and activities or independent time. Thursdays are also devoted to the program’s for-credit environmental lectures and discussions.
  • canoes on a lakeSaturday – Sunday: Excursions and Preparing for the Next Week. Students won’t just learn about the environment, but from it as well, and group excursions offer opportunities to discover and enjoy the natural world. Whether rafting the Rio Grande or exploring national forests, parks, and monuments, we invite our students to engage with nature throughout the program. No prior outdoor experience is needed: all activities are designed to be accessible regardless of comfort or skill level.

We are carefully monitoring the COVID-19 pandemic and will make decisions about specific activities and levels of engagement with community organizations based on careful consideration of COVID safety. For more information on COVID-19 protocols, see below.

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.

COVID-19 Information

students on a farmWe expect that COVID-19 will continue to impact our ability to travel and engage with communities in the fall semester, and we have built the Civic Semester program to allow students to participate in meaningful programming while maintaining CDC-recommended precautions like social distancing, masking, etc. We will also adjust specific interactions with local organizations and communities based on federal, state, 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.

Upon arrival, students will continue COVID-19 mitigation strategies until they receive a negative test result. Once all students in the cohort test negative, students and the two course instructors will create a “closed pod,” allowing them to interact with each other without social distancing and masks. Students and instructors will be the only people in their private living space and will travel only by private transportation. When students do interact with community members or organizations, go grocery shopping in rotating small groups, or have other outside interaction, they will be required to follow CDC and Tufts University guidelines like mask-wearing and social distancing.

In the case of suspected or confirmed COVID-19 infection, any individuals will be isolated from the group in program housing or off-site accommodations near the program location. Staff will continue to monitor student health and wellness and will support students seeking medical care if needed.

Local, state and federal guidance continues to evolve rapidly, and while we are working to support a safe experience, changing conditions could result in program cancellation at any time if student safety can no longer be reasonably assured. Please feel free to contact us with any additional questions about COVID-19 protocols or planning.

How to Apply

Interested students can complete the Tufts Civic Semester application from their Tufts applicant portal. 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. We are accepting and reviewing applications on a rolling basis until our final deadline of May 14 and invite interested students to apply early. The application asks students to submit a few brief paragraphs 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.

Questions? Please contact us at

Apply to Civic Semester

The fall 2021 Civic Semester application has closed. Look for updates in the fall about our 2022 application cycle.