Civically Minded and Action-Oriented: Scott Warren ‘09 On Generation Citizen and The Role of Education in Democratic Practice
Scott Warren ‘09 is currently a Democracy Fellow at the Swearer Center, advocating for critical civic education and engagement and investing the role of democracy in places of higher education. In addition to his Democracy Fellowship, Warren is the CEO of Generation Citizen, an organization dedicated to empowering young people to become engaged and civically minded citizens.
Early Life and Brown Undergraduate Career
Warren grew up all over the world–he’s originally from California, lived in Kenya and throughout South America and East Africa and ultimately graduated high school in Ecuador. In the spring of 2002, while Warren was living in Kenya, he observed the first truly democratic election in Kenya. Subsequently, he became involved in international activism.
His passion for social advocacy further developed upon his entry into college in 2005. Warren took part in the efforts to raise awareness and advance change in Darfur, Sudan due to the injustices occurring there at the time. This activism played an important role in his life during all four years of his undergraduate career. One such manifestation of Warren’s activism related to the Darfur injustices, involved successfully spearheading divestment campaigns. Warren explained how with the help of a group of other students, he was able to encourage Brown to pull investments out of companies doing business in Sudan, making Brown the fifth university in the United States to do so.
As Warren spent a large portion of his undergraduate career engaged in this activism, he wanted to find ways in which his peers could also get involved. “My senior year, in 2008-2009, I had this realization [that] I [was] learning a lot through this activism...a lot of my peers wanted to make a difference but didn't see politics as the way to do so or didn't see working for a government as the way to do so,” Warren explained.
Driven by this desire to motivate Brown students to become active participants in democratic and public advocacy, Warren and a few of his fellow Brown peers decided to take action. “Senior year, I started this organization along with a few other students at Brown, where we tried to figure out how to take the approach that I had learned through Darfur activism [and] mimic [it] on a local level,” said Warren. For him, the approach of this organization meant “working with Providence students to get them to learn about the democratic process [by] taking action in their local communities.” From the on-campus organization that Warren and the group of other Brown Students created at that time, Generation Citizen has evolved into a nationwide nonprofit that aims to equip every student in the United States with an effective civics education, which will eventually attest to the skills necessary to participate in the nation’s democracy.
Returning to Brown: Social Entrepreneur in Residence at the Swearer Center
Following his graduation from Brown, Warren worked on expanding Generation Citizen and taking the model and structure of the organization that was started at Brown and in Providence all across the country. After the organization reached a national span, Warren eventually returned to Brown in 2017 as a Social Entrepreneur in Residence. “I was just grateful,” explained Warren. “Brown played such a pivotal role in developing me as a person and developing Generation Citizen as an idea...so the opportunity to spend some time at Brown and spend some time with students, was really appealing.”
During his Social Entrepreneurship, Warren was able to work on promoting civic engagement within an environment of higher education, while also teaching Brown students. Warren fondly described his return to Brown as an alumnus as an enjoyable moment where he was able to teach but also learn from the students as they pushed him to further conceptualize certain democratic trends and changes. “We need to make sure that students are front and center in terms of thinking about this work... I think we’re approaching it from the top down and that’s not going to lead anywhere,” Warren stated. “So I think we’re just getting the conversation started,” he explained.
Democracy Fellowship and The Role of Education in Democratic Practice Conference
During his time as a Social Entrepreneur in Residence, Warren spent time engaged in the Swearer Center, involved in considering the role of democracy and civic engagement in the Center at the time, and creating authentic involvement and relations with the community. He was invited to stay at Brown as a Democracy Fellow to continue considering the incorporation of democracy in places of higher education and the development of Brown and the Swearer Center as institutions seriously examining the role of civic engagement.
However, prioritizing democratic values and practices was not always easy, as Warren sometimes ran into difficulty emphasizing the ultimate goal of democracy in educational environments. Warren often battled with the questions like: “ What’s the balance between a grassroots approach to encouraging civic engagement while still not mandating it? What are the institutional practices that Brown [is] engaging in so that students feel [like] Brown essentially is part of democracy? How does Brown engage with the community? How do Brown students engage in Providence, R.I. in an effective way too?”
In finding effective solutions to these problems, Warren has been hosting faculty dinners on campus, where students, faculty and community practitioners come together to discuss the ways in which democratic values can be addressed within the University and the ways in which the community can effect changes.
On March 6, at the Cogut Center in Pembroke Hall, Warren hosted a day long conference called The Role of Education in Democratic Practice. Approximately 50 participants, from a diverse range of sectors including civic practitioners, scholars, funders and students, convened from across the country to discussion how educational institutions can promote and be a part of democratic practices. The conference was comprised of presentations and facilitated small group discussions where participants were free to mix among sectors and backgrounds. The framing question for the conference was as follows:
“Given the current problems confronting our American democracy, what is the role of education in defending and promoting democratic values and practice? How and what can be improved? How can scholars, practitioners, and students work together to further promote democratic values and behavior?”
During his opening speech, Warren emphasized that one of the main focuses of the conference was to provide action-orientated solutions. He echoed the importance of the outcome of the conference to be one that provided concrete next steps to answering the questions and topics of discussion outlined in the conference.
“We're excited to continue the momentum as we explore the role of higher education in defending and promoting democracy. We wanted this conference, and initiative, to be action oriented, so we'll continue to push forward. Additional steps include publishing an inaugural citizen journal that will highlight unique local practices from across the country that promote political participation, holding monthly dinners at Brown with diverse stakeholders, and continuing a speaker series. We hope that Brown will become a leader in the country in bringing people together to talk and think about this important topic, and create concrete actionable steps.”