Freedom and Citizenship began in 2009 through a partnership between Columbia's Center for American Studies and the Roger Lehecka Double Discovery Center. With an initial grant from the Teagle Foundation, the program opened with fifteen students taught by professor Roosevelt Montás, director of Columbia's Center for the Core Curriculum. The program aimed to introduce dedicated high school students to college-level work in the humanities and prepare them for lives as informed, responsible citizens.
After the first summer, when students reconvened to come up with a civic project for the academic year they realized they didn't know much about how the government of their own city worked. Worse, when they asked around to teachers, parents, and their professors, they found almost no one understood the intricacies of New York City politics. In response, they dedicated their year to developing a high school curriculum on New York City government.
In the following year, on the 45th anniversary of the DDC, the students went back to their roots to conduct an oral history project about the Double Discovery Center. In the summer of 2011, students took home tape recorders on summer weekends to interview immigrants they knew at home. That fall they chose to advocate for undocumented high school and college students through the DREAM Act.
After the summer of 2012, when voter identification laws were expanding in many states, students researched voting rights, wrote up reform proposals, and developed resources for people to avoid disenfranchisement. The next year they looked at New York City and the problem of mass incarceration. Students developed a syllabus for educating themselves and their peers, created a video, and wrote a newspaper.
Over the years students have tackled projects on education inequity, gender equality, immigration, climate change, mental health, and much more.