Free Minds was created in 2006 as a program of the University of Texas Humanities Institute, in partnership with Austin Community College and Foundation Communities. It is modeled on the Clemente Course in the Humanities, which originated in New York City under the direction of the late Earl Shorris in 1995 and has now spread to communities across the country. Like the Clemente Course, Free Minds seeks to address the divide between the skills-based training usually delivered to people living on low incomes and the studia humanitas, the kind of humanistic education ordinarily reserved for students at elite colleges and universities.
Free Minds bridges that divide by engaging students with important works of literature, philosophy, history, and art, through the intensive, discussion-based seminar experience that is at the heart of a liberal arts education.
In 2009, Free Minds became a program of the UT Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, maintaining its strong partnerships with ACC and Foundation Communities. It moved its home to the Community Engagement Center in East Austin.
To date, Free Minds has graduated more than 80 students, many of whom have gone on to pursue degrees at local institutions of higher education. Graduate also report an increased engagement in their children’s education and new career opportunities.
Free Minds has expanded its programming over the years to include ongoing support for program alumni through monthly master classes and periodic credit-bearing alumni classes. It also launched a series of community writing workshops, offered for free at organizations serving economically disadvantaged populations. A formal mentorship program for graduates is planned for development in 2013.
Now in its seventh year, Free Minds remains the only program of its kind in Texas. The Class of 2013 began classes in August 2012.