In January of 2005, Trident Technical College launched its groundbreaking Charleston Clemente Project, which offered two free college-level humanities courses to the homeless and the disadvantaged. The project’s hope was that the critical reasoning skills gained from the study of the humanities would provide people with the tools needed to escape multi-generational poverty. Based on the premise that “the best education for the best is the best education for all”, Clemente dared to bring a Yale education to even the homeless. Although new to the area, Clemente is not a new entity. The very first Clemente Course was founded in the late 1990s by the author /journalist Earl Shorris in conjunction with the Bard College in New York. His book Riches for the Poor recounts the formation of this initial project.
Clemente students come from homeless shelters, drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers, veteran villas, prisons, and from the ranks of the working poor, financially unable to enter college. Clemente participants receive free tuition, meals, books, bus passes, mentoring, and refurbished computers. The project is composed of two free 3 non degree credit courses. In HSS 101, students embark on a study of art and American history. If a student passes this course, he or she is then allowed to take HSS 102, which combines the study of literature, philosophy, and writing. In this class, students are exposed to the Western paradigm through the works of Sophocles, Plato, Shakespeare, Kant, and Mill and to the Eastern paradigm through excerpts pertaining to Buddhism, Taoism, and Hinduism. The class is team taught by faculty from the various disciplines. In addition to their college work in the classroom, Clemente students participate in two other activities during the year. In the Clemente Cabaret, students present their own poetry, sing, dance, and play musical instruments in order to raise money for the Clemente students who will follow in their footsteps. Similarly in TTC’s annual play, students act, help with makeup/ costume and work on the set. Once again, the goal is to help fund the next Clemente course through the sale of theatre tickets. 2008’s production of Dracula raised nearly $9,000 for the Clemente Course. Initially funded by a grant from the SC Humanities Council, the Charleston Clemente Project is sustained by funds from a variety of grants, from individual donors, and from other TTC fundraising activities.
Many of Clemente graduates go on to complete their Associates degree and their BAs. Some obtain stable jobs and careers, move out of the shelters and into their own apartments; some overcome addictive behavior patterns that have continually sabotaged them. One single mom with five kids started Clemente Kids at the Boys and Girls Club, where she worked, to provide other Clemente mothers with free child care while they were in class. Despite the fact that the national average for Clemente students who complete the course is 50%, the Charleston Clemente Course is proud to have a success rate of over 65%.
Although there are now more than 65 Clemente Courses spread throughout the world, the Charleston Clemente Course is currently the only one in South Carolina. The director of the Charleston course hopes to change that statistic. Since Trident Technical College has recently agreed to become the Southeast Center for Clemente, the project’s director, Dr. Mary Ann Kohli, anticipates spreading the course to other colleges in South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, and Tennessee. For more information on starting a Clemente Course at your college, contact: Dr. Mary Ann Kohli – office phone 843-720-5713 or email – firstname.lastname@example.org.