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20 Best Colleges for Socially-Conscious Students

Posted on Sunday January 22, 2012 by Staff Writers

College is, ostensibly, a particularly piquant voyage of self-discovery, so it makes perfect sense that many students would find themselves embarking on some socially responsible projects during this time in their lives. Some schools facilitate this desire to do right by the world better than others, though their methods obviously differ from one another. Depending on interest, enrollees can enjoy socially responsible opportunities including amazing volunteer projects, classes about ethical practices, green initiatives, political activism, and plenty more. The following represent some options that current or future game changers might want to consider when looking for a college or university meeting their needs.

  1. University of California, Berkeley

    When most people think of campus activism, their minds probably wander immediately to crunchy ol’ Berkeley. Known largely for its affiliation with the hippie movement, in reality the college’s activist legacy stretches well beyond protesting the Vietnam War. As far back as the 1920s, faculty fought for immigrant rights, and decades later students would join in the fights against fascist and totalitarian governments. Other Berkeley-based initiatives promoted free speech, gender equality, racial equality, LGBTQIA equality, disability rights, and other hallmarks of a socially just nation.

  2. Mills College

    Socially-conscious students hoping to apply their ethics to the oft-challenged business world might want to consider an MBA through Mills College in Oakland, California. Their Center for Socially Responsible Business offers classes promoting sustainable, fair practices – which more and more consumers have been demanding as general awareness regarding human rights violations escalates.

  3. University of Montana

    In 2008, students occupied the office of University of Montana’s then-President George Dennison, irate over the school’s athletic wear ethics. Because Russell Athletics, with which they once shared a contract, exploited Honduran sweatshop workers, these dedicated demonstrators called for an end to the deal. UM responded by partnering with Knights Apparel after a thorough investigation into their international business practices, deeming them ethical, equitable employers. Now Grizzlies can rock their school’s colors with real pride.

  4. College of the Atlantic

    For student activists who believe that ecological justice and social justice exist as more or less the same entity, this little liberal arts school in Maine may prove an ideal fit. As of December 2007, College of the Atlantic earned the distinction of being the United States’ very first carbon neutral institute of higher learning. Even unforeseeable waste ends up accounted for via offsets, such is the school’s devotion to keeping it green.

  5. University of California, Riverside

    Over half of UCR’s student population participates in community service projects, earning its very first President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll award in 2010. That year, Highlanders donated over 2.5 million hours to the betterment of their local, state, national, and international communities. UCR bursts at the seams with clubs dedicated to numerous social, political, and economic causes, so chances are enrollees will find something appealing to their activist tendencies.

  6. Hampshire College

    Like an East Coast Berkeley, Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts always has harbored a student body devoted to every brand of social justice out there. Boasting an “anti-oppression curriculum,” the school doesn’t even offer grades for its courses, most of which take an activist education bent. For added crunch, three different faculty programs heavily emphasizing civil liberties and public policy, population and development, and community partnerships. Socially-conscious students at Hampshire certainly have many inspiring mentors at their disposal when it comes to working on projects for or outside of class.

  7. University of California, Davis

    Occupy Colleges – an academic offshoot of Occupy Wall Street – didn’t start at UCD, but the school ended up as the movement’s face because of the memetic pepper spraying cop. Although demonstrations always come saddled with an inherent risk of violence from either side, upcoming students with an interest in participating in today’s calls for economic justice might want to head here for solidarity’s sake. Beyond this contemporary example, the school also hosts numerous organizations promoting awareness of a wide variety of issues.

  8. Columbia University

    Like Berkeley and Hampshire, Columbia’s entire history embraces social, political, and economic justice pursuits. It inspired other campuses to stand up for Civil Rights, protest apartheid, and challenge Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmandinjad among other leadership accomplishments. Pinpointing exactly what potential students can expect proves quite a daunting challenge, as they can participate in – or start – just about anything. Whether looking for lectures about why to avoid GMOs or demonstrations against perceived anti-Semitism, there’s a plethora of different causes out there to support.

  9. Evergreen State University

    Nestled up in Washington, public liberal arts college Evergreen State University’s course catalog plays host to numerous social justice classes. Many, for example, explicitly analyze the core components of successful movements and explore local initiatives through field trips and hands-on experience. Even beyond that, the school lives up to its name by acting as one of the nation’s leading eco-friendly campuses. Not only does ESU try to offer up the greenest possible grounds, it also hosts numerous conferences and other events promoting an earnest environmental agenda.

  10. Oberlin College and Conservatory

    Often lauded as one of the most progressive campuses in the United States, Oberlin’s guest speaker docket includes Gloria Steinem and other influential luminaries. This eye towards social justice and equality originated with the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue of 1858, which saw students placing their own lives in jeopardy to free a slave and smuggle him up to Canada. Suffice to say, they celebrate this event every year, and carry on this applause-worthy legacy through discussions and events promoting ethics, safe spaces, equality, and more.

  11. American University

    Considering its convenient Washington, D.C. location, American University students with an interest in social justice enjoy a distinct advantage – one they don’t shy away from using. For foreign politics buffs, the Center for Israel Studies might lure in those with a particular pining for peace in the Middle East. Or try the Center for Health, Risk, and Society when seeking out research and projects pertaining to…uhhhh…health, risk, and society. Even outside the classroom, enrollees participate (and initiate!) in social justice causes ranging from the local to the international with the hopes of growing into better global citizens.

  12. Central Michigan University

    Through the Volunteer Center, Chippewas eager to spend their holidays in the service of others sign up for the world-class alternative break program. More schools beyond Central Michigan University offer such initiatives, of course, but theirs oftentimes receives particular recognition through venues such as US News & World Report. Even those who’d need or want to spend their vacation days elsewhere have the opportunity to participate in alternative weekends. Domestic and foreign options are available, too, with projects covering different social issues depending on the time of year.

  13. Warren Wilson College

    As one of the greenest, most sustainable colleges in the United States, Warren Wilson might prove a snug little academic fit for the eco-conscious. Both energy-efficient and largely self-sustaining, the school provides attendees with myriad chances to learn firsthand how to apply environmental initiatives for a cleaner planet. Animal lovers might want to take part in hands-on activities promoting conservation and safety, as WWC partners with numerous local organizations to protect and preserve North Carolinian wildlife.

  14. Harvard University

    Activists and future politicians practically shoot out of the John F. Kennedy School of Government, which primes students for careers as community servants. Though American policymakers are, for the most part, tragically useless, that doesn’t mean the school hasn’t produced some exceptional game changers. In the visual media department, artists shed light on issues such as AIDS in order to promote awareness through creative conduits.

  15. University of Chicago

    The nation’s third most popular city unfortunately plays host to horrific crime, urban squalor, political corruption, and poverty – meaning University of Chicago students don’t have to travel far to fight injustice. Weekly mailing lists get sent out in order to inform subscribers of what events and causes different organizations plan on promoting. In addition, the student body and faculty sponsors host the Student Activist Conference every winter quarter. Based around a different theme every time, it serves as a culmination of the year’s most notable findings and social justice achievements.

  16. University of Colorado at Boulder

    Back in 2000, the faculty at UCB issued forth a declaration that the school move forward with an initiative to switch over to ethical apparel. More currently, the Center for Values and Social Policy provides aspirant activists the education they need to philosophically discuss the issues and form cohesive solutions. Even students who decide not to enroll in its programming can still read its publications and attend lectures and other events. Subjects run such a wide gamut, in all likelihood something will pique some socially-conscious individual’s interest.

  17. Pitzer College

    Thanks to an almost obsessive devotion to nurturing a diverse campus, Pitzer College has impressed many a student and visitor looking for something on the socially aware side. Because making the effort to see things from multiple perspectives is a core element of instigating positive change, the school requires all graduates to display consciousness towards ethics before conferring degrees. This is accomplished by making classes in the Social Responsibility and the Ethical Implications of Knowledge and Action and Intercultural Exploration sections compulsory.

  18. Southern New Hampshire University

    Recent graduates looking for a little hot MBA action might want to think about feeding their ethical cores in the Corporate Social Responsibility studies program. Available online and off, these SNHU classes inspire future entrepreneurs and executives to draw up initiatives benefiting workers and the environment alike. For the eco-friendly, the college also holds the distinction of being the state’s very first carbon neutral campus.

  19. University of Washington

    2009 saw University of Washington boast the highest number of graduates entering the Peace Corps, though later years saw them ousted; though in 2011 they stayed strong at the number three position, tied with University of Michigan and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. However, that year they sent more graduate students than any other school, with 21 to University of Florida’s 20. Since 1961, about 3,457 Huskies have dedicated their post-graduation time to the Peace Corps – more than any other college or university — so the socially-conscious out there wanting to take their talents international might want to consider attending University of Washington.

  20. University of Florida

    After University of Colorado at Boulder, which sent a whopping 117 students to the Peace Corps in 2011, University of Florida ranks as one of the best for students aspiring for entry in that organization. Ninety-seven undergraduate and 20 graduate students moved on to the venerable service program upon completing their degrees. While it may not boast as many overall contributions as University of Washington, the school still warrants consideration for altruistic types.