A new course being offered at the University of Victoria (UVic) this fall will include 10 students and 10 people from the Vancouver Island Regional Correctional Centre (VIRCC).
UVic’s Faculty of Humanities and B.C. Corrections have partnered up to offer the philosophy course, HUMA 495 “Conceptions of Justice and Engaged Pedagogy.” The fourth-year humanities course is the first of its kind and will take place at VIRCC — locally known as the Wilkinson Road jail.
UVic associate philosophy professor Audrey Yap designed the course after being inspired by the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program which was founded in Philadelphia back in 1997 and is currently offered at two universities on the Island. Inside-Out brings together “outside students” from colleges around the world and “inside students” from jails and correctional facilities to study criminology.
Yap will teach her students philosophy and together they will ponder the existential questions of life while reading work by Ursula K. Le Guin, Martin Luther King, Albert Camus and others. The course will be discussion-based and the final project is flexible, Yap explained. Students can be creative and will be given the chance to share what their work with their peers. She said the UVic students will be exposed to the principles of restorative justice and the VIRCC students will be supported in accessing education.
“Education is key in reducing risk of re-offence which is a win for everyone,” Yap pointed out.
Yap noted that the classroom pedagogy will be different because her students will come from varying levels of previous education, privilege and life experience. However, campus students will realize that the incarcerated students are just regular folks, she said.
“They’re just people who’ve had really different lives,” she said.
The course was tested out last year with the help of Adam Donaldson who is now a UVic alumnus but worked on the project as part of a directed study course during his fourth year. The pilot project was conducted in collaboration with students from VIRCC’s Right Living Community — which focuses on role modelling and making positive changes — turned out to be a success.
Yap was also able to get a sense of what types of readings, topics and discussions would work best and she noted that she learned a lot about being a teacher in a new educational environment. B.C. Corrections was happy to have the course be taught at the jail and UVic has been very supportive, she explained.
For Yap, making education and philosophy accessible while providing an opportunity for students of varying backgrounds to work together face-to-face is the main goal. She also teaches in UVic’s free University 101 program which works with students who face educational barriers to help them succeed in the university environment.
All the HUMA 495 students will meet at VIRCC once a week and then the UVic students will have a lecture on campus as well. The UVic students will be graded and earn credit for the course, while the incarcerated students will receive a course completion certificate and will not have to pay for the course, Yap explained. She will also have office hours on campus and at the jail so that all of her students can access her guidance.
Yap will chat with her UVic students beforehand to make sure they’re aware of what the course will entail and the importance of confidentiality, but she pointed out that she knows most of the students from the campus and from the jail who have already signed up.
There is still room in the course for folks interested in signing up. University students must have fourth-year standing.