Social Justice & Commitment

A strong commitment to social justice and inclusivity dates to the founding of the College in 1846 by transplanted New Englanders with strong abolitionist and social-reformer backgrounds. Early in the College’s history, the town of Grinnell was an important stop on the underground railroad that secretly transported slaves to freedom.

Grinnell College’s social consciousness blossomed during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency, when graduates Harry Hopkins 1912, Chester Davis 1911, Paul Appleby 1913, Hallie Ferguson Flanagan 1911, and Florence Stewart Kerr 1912 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 to effect positive social change.

For example:

  • The annual Grinnell College Young Innovator for Social Justice Prize honors individuals under the age of 40 who have demonstrated leadership in their fields and who show creativity, commitment, and extraordinary accomplishment in effecting positive social change. Winners participate in an annual Grinnell Prize Symposium on campus. Through public lectures and interactions with students, they share their experiences and perspectives in effecting positive and innovative social change. Lasting ties with the winners and their organizations offer opportunities for student internships, short courses, and other educational experiences.
  • Grinnell’s Social Justice Action Group works toward 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.
  • Grinnell’s Expanding Knowledge Initiative 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.
  • The Office of Social Commitment empowers Grinnellians by administering programs and advising students in the areas of scholarship, service, and leadership.
  • The Center for Religion, Spirituality, and Social Justice is committed to fostering intercultural, interreligious dialogues and service on the Grinnell College campus and in the wider community.