Earl Shorris

Earl Shorris (Photo by W.W. Norton)

In 1995, Earl Shorris, a social critic and author, organized the first course at the Roberto Clemente Family Guidance Center in New York City. It provided free tertiary-level humanities education for disadvantaged adults, and supported students with resources, transport and catering. At the time, the prevailing view was that disadvantaged people need to be trained in vocational skills to equip them for work. In contrast, Shorris’s view was that the Humanities empower people to think about and reflect upon the world in which they live. In turn, this promotes a broader re-engagement with society and the disadvantaged learn to see themselves, not as victims, but as agents of change. He said that the Humanities: “give people a sense of self, to see the world and themselves differently …People who know the humanities become good citizens, become active, not acted upon.” 

Since 1995, the Clemente program has been introduced into about 20 US cities as well in Canada, Australia, Mexico, Argentina and South Korea. It was also offered, with some variation in content, in Yucatan and Alaska for Native Americans. 

Visit Clemente Course in the Humanities

Early years in Australia

By 2002 people associated with the Society of St Vincent de Paul in Sydney, had taken notice of Shorris’s ideas. He visited Sydney in March 2003 and suggested a phased approach to launching Clemente in Australia: a series of one-off seminars; then short Clemente courses followed by the full program. An interim working committee was established and favoured launching the full program. ACU, in collaboration with the St. Vincent de Paul Society and with financial assistance from the Sisters of Charity and Sydney City Council offered the first Australian Clemente program at the community centre of Vincentian Village in East Sydney in September 2003. The first Graduation Ceremony was held in Sydney Town Hall in 2006.

Clemente the Australian way

Earl Shorris meets with students and faculty of the University of San Andrews in Buenos Aires, Argentina, 2010

ACU’s Clemente Australia has for the most part adopted the Clemente model outlined by Earl Shorris with some exceptions:

  • Students are formally assessed. Grading of assessment promotes and maintains the academic credibility of Clemente Australia.
  • Humanities units on offer in Clemente Australia are not as prescriptive as those outlined by Shorris. 
  • There is no upper age restriction on Clemente Australia students.

Clemente Australia spreads

In 2005 the program, using the name Catalyst- Clemente, was established at the Mission Australia Centre in Surry Hills, Sydney. The following year Catalyst-Clemente was introduced at Mission Australia in Brisbane, initially at Café One on Wickham Terrace in Spring Hill. 

When the Vincentian Village closed, the program moved to the Catalyst-Clemente Mission Australia site in Surry Hills.  

The ACU-supported program expanded rapidly during this period ultimately leading to the establishment of seven sites in three states and the Australian Capital Territory. 

Coming full circle

Professor Michael Griffiths in Harlem

ACU’s Professor Michael Griffith gave a class on Australian Indigenous literature to African American Clemente students in New York in January 2019. In the session in Harlem they explored Yothu Yindi and some of the poetry of the Stolen Generation (Eva Johnson, Kevin Gilbert, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Lisa Bellear) together with art work and poetry by Paddy Nelson, Margaret Preston, Russell Drysdale, Judith Wright and others.

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About Clemente Australia

Clemente aims to break the cycle of poverty, inequality and social injustice for people experiencing complex life challenges through access to university education.

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Impacts and benefits of Clemente

Participation in Clemente comes with a wide range of benefits for all involved. Hear first-hand how Clemente has changed the lives of students and volunteers.

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Partner with Clemente

Clemente is built on partnerships. ACU invites organisations to support Clemente through contributions of time, talent, influence, resources or funds.

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Contact the Clemente team

If you would like to learn more about Clemente, or find out how to get involved, you can reach out to our friendly Clemente Australia team by email or phone.

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