By Andrea Rentel, Staff Writer
University life is a central pillar of the student experience. Everything becomes second nature; writing midterms, doing readings, attending lectures, meeting your friends at the Buttery, or going to Robarts to study. We run through our weekly routines without a second thought. However, for a lot of adults around the world – and in Toronto alone – higher education was not an option for various reasons. Life got in the way.
Humanities for Humanity (H4H), under the branch of Ideas for the World, gives Toronto community members the opportunity to engage with the University of Toronto by listening to lectures and discussing current topics at the forefront of academia – and, for some, the opportunity to experience university for the first time. Conversely, UofT students, faculty, and lecturers are given the opportunity to hear perspectives of people with decades of real-life experience and a wide range of invaluable cultural backgrounds. While University members possess the training required to engage with topics in an academic manner, community members round out and enrich the discussions by bringing real-life experiences, stories, and applications that students lack.
Kelley Castle, Dean of Victoria College and Academic Advisor for H4H, explains that Ideas for the World takes “a crack at making the walls of the university a bit more porous” in Academic Matters. In other words, H4H aims to tear down the University’s economic and social barriers that keep certain people at arm’s length. Care is taken to eliminate obstacles that would otherwise bar community members from participating in the program. Measures to increase program accessibility include providing child care for parents, covering the cost of transportation and reading material, providing dinner for participants at each session, and not administering exams and assignments. This year, the joint program – administered by Trinity and Victoria Colleges – runs from September 27th to December 6th from 6-8 pm every Tuesday evening at the Victoria College Building. Each session begins with a catered dinner for community members, student mentors, and UofT faculty and staff. At dinner, students and community members converse and learn more about each other. During a feedback session, student mentors emphasized the importance of conversing with community members over dinner in allowing them to practice conversational skills that many felt they had lost after COVID-19.
Following dinner, lectures are given regarding a wide variety of issues and topics. The Fall 2022 session covers politics, philosophy, literature, history, and more. The syllabus includes topics such as “Women in the Halls of Power: Are we making progress?” delivered by Hon. Kathleen Wynne, Lecturer at UofT, and Former MPP and Ontario Premier; “Predicting Global Warming: How long have we known?” delivered by Prof. Steve Easterbrook, Director at the School of the Environment and Professor in the Department of Computer Science; “Letting Oneself Go: the ethics of advance directives” delivered by Prof. Mike Kessler, Raymond Pryke Chair and Director of the Margaret MacMillan Trinity One Program; “Listening to Ice” delivered by Prof. Sherry Lee, Associate Professor and Associate Dean with Research in Musicology; and more.
Following lectures, groups of student mentors and community members engage in meaningful discussions regarding the topic at hand, guided by discussion questions. During this part of the night, student mentors carry out their primary responsibilities: facilitating discussions, nurturing conversation, and building an inviting environment for community members to express ideas. At the end of the night, community members present their smaller group’s ideas to the entire class. Only halfway through the program, student mentors have already noted the value of Humanities for Humanity. As people become accustomed to attending the same classes with the same people and engaging in the same social groups, H4H is a rare opportunity to step outside the university bubble. During a reflection session, mentors explained that it’s nice to open up the circle of people they engage with and interact with people they would’ve likely never had the opportunity to speak to.
The spirit and goal of H4H stems from the reciprocal gain of students and community members during sessions. The intersection of the academic experience of students and the life experience of community members generate truly inspiring conversations that bring forth moving ideas. H4H has been running since 2007 and continues to enrich the lives of members of both the UofT and city of Toronto communities. It’s also a fun way for individuals to engage in academic discussion in a low stakes, stress-free environment.