We take seriously our historic commitment to social responsibility, including:

  • our strong tradition of social responsibility and action
  • our strong tradition of self-governance and personal responsibility
  • learning from and communicating with the world beyond the campus
  • life-long connections that support friendship, work, and learning
  • continuing to build institutional strength for educating tomorrow's students

Grinnell was founded in 1846 by a group of transplanted New Englanders with strong Congregational and social-reformer backgrounds. They organized as the Trustees of Iowa College — originally in Davenport, Iowa. In 1859 the trustees moved the College to newly settled Grinnell, Iowa, where their abolitionist sentiments were more welcome. At the time, Grinnell was an important stop on the Underground Railroad that secretly transported slaves to freedom.

Grinnell’s social consciousness blossomed during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency, when graduates Harry Hopkins ’12, Chester Davis ’11, Paul Appleby ’13, Hallie Ferguson Flanagan ’11, and Florence Stewart Kerr ’12 became influential New Deal administrators.

Today, Grinnell’s commitment to social justice continues through a strong philosophy of self governance and personal responsibility, as well as programs and initiatives that encourage students to learn about the world beyond the campus and effect positive social change.

For example, Grinnell’s Social Justice Action Group works towards peace, justice, and positive social change with efforts that fight hunger, promote volunteerism, and build understanding. The Wall Alumni Service Awards provide financial support for Grinnell alumni to engage in service projects, programs, and organizations dedicated to improving the lives of others. Under Grinnell’s Expanding Knowledge Initiative, the College has introduced curricular innovations in the areas of environmental challenges, human rights, and human dignity. The Liberal Arts in Prison Program, a collaborative effort by Grinnell students, faculty, and staff, engages incarcerated adults in courses in the liberal arts.

With the creation of the Grinnell Prize, the College is extending its educational mission beyond the campus and alumni community to individuals anywhere who believe innovative social justice programs create a better world. Through student internships and staff fellowships, student and staff members have the opportunity to work with the Prize winners and their organizations. Explore the Grinnellians and Winners pages to learn more about these opportunities and Grinnellians' experiences working with these outstanding individuals and organizations.