At 30 sites across the United States and Puerto Rico, the Bard College Clemente Course in the Humanities provides economically and socially marginalized adults with a free college course in the humanities. The experience of non-traditional adult students, particularly adults of color, is often missing from academic literature, exacerbating past injustices and increasingly marginalizing the historically underserved people and communities of color by higher education. This paper, which draws from a two-year critical ethnography of Clemente courses, examines the perspective of the adult learners of color who participated in the course. Interview and participant-observational data indicate that adults enrolled in the course for various reasons, with little to no understanding of the term "humanities." Despite their initial lack of familiarity with the course content, learners engaged with and embraced the material, valued the cultural capital it imparted, and saw an important role for the humanities in their home communities. Though non-traditional adult students are typically tapped for basic skills, compensatory, or vocational programs, they can benefit profoundly from inclusion in rigorous humanistic inquiry and discussion like that offered by Clemente.


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