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Clemente Course In The Humanities

The humanities open doors.

Everyone deserves access to the humanities. Critical thinking, writing, discussion, and public speaking are essential skills that change lives and strengthen communities.

Supported by Mass Humanities, The Clemente Course in the Humanities offers a transformative educational opportunity for adults facing economic hardship and adverse circumstance to further their education and careers, advocate for themselves and their families, and engage actively in the cultural and political lives of their communities.

Clemente graduate Angel Guiterriez, Dorchester
Clemente graduate Angel Gonzalez, Dorchester

The Clemente Course in the Humanities offers tuition-free, college-level classes in Brockton, Dorchester, New Bedford, Springfield, and Worcester. Adults in traditionally underserved communities earn credit from Bard College, studying art history, creative writing, history, literature, and philosophy alongside their neighbors.

Clemente participants emerge with new educational opportunities, new friendships, and new ideas about the humanities and the world. Clemente graduates have gone on to earn degrees from colleges and universities, and find employment in education, human services, public health, housing, and an array of other fields. Many participants take on leadership roles in their communities.

The courses are made possible through a partnership between Mass Humanities, The Clemente Course in the Humanities, Bard College, and host organizations in five cities.

“I believe in my life, my future, my tomorrow, and the tomorrow of my children because when you educate one person in a household you have educated a whole household.”

–Doreen Samuels, Clemente Worcester Class of 2016

How does Clemente work?

Clemente classes are held in the evening twice a week for two semesters, starting in September and ending in May (each site has a slightly different schedule). Each class lasts two hours. Students receive 110 hours of instruction from humanities professors, complete writing assignments, engage in classroom discussions, and participate in field trips to cultural institutions.

Each course features instruction in:

  • Art History
  • Writing
  • Literature
  • US History
  • Philosophy

Students who complete the course are eligible for six credits from Bard College and participate in graduation ceremonies.   

Who enrolls in Clemente?

The course is open to adults age 17 and over. Prerequisites for participation include a high school diploma or equivalent certification, and a family income of 150% of the federal poverty line or below.

How much does the class cost?

The class is free. Students receive free books and assistance with public transportation. Several sites also provide free childcare. Faculty are paid stipends and the host sites receive support to make the program possible.

With our education in tow, we now have a well-established framework. Now, let’s get to work, and while we’re there let’s do something creative. Do something innovative. Let us color our endeavors in the sky so the world knows—we were here.

–Dawn Lopes, Clemente New Bedford Class of 2016, Bristol Community College Class of 2019 valedictorian

Where do classes take place?

Mass Humanities supports the Clemente Course in five Massachusetts cities:

Stonehill Downtown Center for Community Engagement
68 Legion Parkway
Contact: Lee Farrow
Course Website

Dorchester (Boston)
Codman Square Health Center
637 Washington Street
Contact: Michelle Rue
Course Website

New Bedford
PACE, Inc. Head Start
32 Madison St.
Contact: Susan Hagan
Course website

Martin Luther King Jr Family Services
106 Wilbraham Road
Contact: Gina Ocasion
Course website

Worcester Art Museum
55 Salisbury Street
Contact: Elizabeth Bacon
Course website

A sixth Massachusetts Clemente course is hosted independently by
The Care Center in Holyoke.

How do I enroll?

The five Clemente host organizations begin recruiting in the summer prior to the start of classes in the fall. Each site has a different enrollment deadline and class schedule. Prospective students complete an interview with a site director. Visit the website for the Clemente Course in your city for information on enrollment dates, interviews, and course schedules, and contact the site coordinator with any questions.

“The Clemente Course reawakened me. I feel a sense of excitement in participating in life again. I don’t want to be ‘not aware’ anymore.”

– Angel Gonzalez, Clemente Course Dorchester Class of 2010

History of Clemente

In 1995 the writer Earl Shorris visited a correctional facility in Bedford Hills, New York. Shorris was in search of answers about the roots of poverty in America. At the penitentiary he joined a circle of inmates and two social workers to discuss their experiences. During a break in the conversation, he asked the woman next to him, “Why do you think people are poor?” The woman pointed to the lack of alternatives in impoverished neighborhoods. Shorris recounted the conversation in his book, The Art of Freedom.

“You’ve got to teach the moral of downtown to the children. And the way you do that, Earl, is by taking them downtown to plays, museums, concerts, lectures, where they can learn the moral life of downtown.”

“What you mean is the humanities.”

She looked at me as if I were the stupidest man on earth. “Yes, Earl, the humanities.”

Shorris returned to New York City and started a course at the Roberto Clemente Family Guidance Center in the city’s Lower East Side neighborhood. Assembling a faculty of fellow scholars, he began teaching literature and philosophy, from Plato to Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Graduates of that first course went on to become dentists, nurses, fashion designers, and drug counselors; two participants later earned their PhDs. Since 1996, over 10,000 students have benefited from the Clemente Course in the Humanities. Classes continue to take place across the U.S., and around the world. Shorris received the National Humanities Medal in 2000.

Mass Humanities introduced the Clemente Course to Massachusetts in 1999. Overcoming formidable obstacles such as economic instability, health challenges, family responsibilities, and disability, more than 750 Massachusetts residents have graduated from the program.


“It’s a safe space to give yourself the tools to move in circles where you usually don’t get to, or have the confidence to feel comfortable adventuring.” 

– Kafi Dixon, Clemente Dorchester Class of 2014

Read more from “Aristotle on the Farm.”

Watch a short film about the Clemente Course:

Read: Clemente Students Speak for Themselves (2002)


Mass Humanities sustains the Clemente Course through support from private foundations, individual donors, and funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and Mass Cultural Council. Each host site provides support through additional funding, staffing, and operations.

Through an NEH Challenge Grant awarded in 2011, Mass Humanities established an endowment to support programs serving those whose access to the humanities is limited due to social, economic, geographic, or other reasons. Major support for the Endowment assigned to the Clemente Course came from from The Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the Paterson Historical Fund, the latter to establish the Stanley Paterson Professor of U.S. History at the Dorchester Clemente Course.

Major supporters over the past five years:

  • Paul and Edith Babson Foundation
  • Bay Path University
  • The Beveridge Family Foundation, Inc.
  • Clipper Ship Foundation, Inc.
  • Community Foundation Of Western Massachusetts
  • Kenneth Feinberg
  • Al and Sally Griggs
  • Jean MacCormack
  • Thomas P. McCarthy
  • Deborah Munroe Noonan Memorial Fund
  • Springfield College
  • University of Massachusetts Amherst
  • University of Massachusetts Dartmouth
  • Vila B. Webber 1985 Charitable Trust
  • Wells Fargo Foundation
  • Western New England University

Interested in supporting the Clemente Course in Massachusetts? Make a donation today or contact John Sieracki for more information.

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