They read Yusef Komunyakaa, Jack London, Sandra Cisneros, Greek mythology, exploring the human condition by way of manner of literature. Then they do some writing of their personal. Along with their assigned essays often come notes for their instructors — messages of appreciation, of latest views and of the brighter horizons discovered thru studying.Susan DerwinCredit: UC Santa Barbara

“I don’t understand how to tell you what it looks like to know that you are taking note of our voices … to experience that we’re now not invisible, that we’re now not forgotten.”

“I’m connecting with other men right here about what I’m reading. I’m speakme to my own family approximately my reading. I’m speaking to my daughter approximately what she’s analyzing in school.”

“When you get letters like that — there may be no higher example of ways relevant literature is,” said Susan Derwin, a professor of comparative literature at UC Santa Barbara and director of the campus’s Interdisciplinary Humanities Center (IHC). “We speak loads about the cost of reading, of the usage of the imagination, of getting that internal realm, which they have got known as a actual space of freedom. And they’ve said it makes them higher residents at the internal.”Redefining the public college’s role

The inner is Kern Valley State Prison and California Men’s Colony, where Derwin, through the IHC, runs a completely unique correspondence path for incarcerated individuals. She started out “Foundations inside the Humanities” in 2015, after receiving an inquiry from a prisoner who changed into once a UC scholar.

“This got here at a time whilst we had begun to clearly assume severely about the role of the general public college in running towards the social well being of the broadest community,” Derwin said. “How have to the university assist serve its groups via training? This turned into an opportunity for us to reflect onconsideration on that and act on it.”

Modeling the course after a lifestyles-competencies application run by way of the Los Angeles Archdiocese — Sister Mary Sean Hodges, the director of that attempt, is now a accomplice with IHC — Derwin released at Kern Valley, with few expectancies. She become blown away. Hoping to get 10 guys for the inaugural cohort, sixty four implemented.

“We popular all of them and multiplied our graduate pupil pool to paintings with them — and 48 of them finished the course,” Derwin stated. “After the first route became completed there at once came requests for more, so we commenced ‘Foundations inside the Humanities 2,’ targeted on American literature. We are constructing extra publications and there are different faculty interested in being involved.”‘Tools for residing properly’

This growing cognizance for the arts, and for universities greater widely, is the subject of an upcoming symposium at UC Santa Barbara, “Humanities in Prison,” on April 26. Beginning at nine a.m. in the McCune Conference Room, 6020 Humanities and Social Sciences Building, the daylong event is loose and open to the general public.

The collecting convenes educators and previously incarcerated people alike to share stories and discover the constructing of intellectual groups across systemic divides thru the arts. It also will mirror on the possibilities and obligations of the college community “to other college students inside the broader international in our state,” Derwin said.

“How are we able to recognize what a privilege it is to have these gear that we will make available to others?” she requested. “That is how I see the arts — as gear for living well, for residing in community, for residing with oneself.”

Michael Morgan, a professor of theater arts at UC Santa Barbara, works with young people offenders thru his quite regarded summer initiative, The Odyssey Project. He, too, considers the humanities a precious method of reflection, even reinvention, for this populace.

“That can be specially significant and healing to incarcerated kids who stand at a crossroads among a annoying past and a future that would keep more mild,” said Morgan, who will gift at the symposium. “The manner of the artist is centered on choice-making. By putting themselves in this role of power, incarcerated children often exercise opportunity methods of participating in the world. These physical activities might not yield immediate, dramatic trade however glimpses of opportunity can someday offset narratives of oppression and hopelessness.”

That equal possibility is at the coronary heart of Derwin’s correspondence course, a rarity amongst four-yr establishments.

“There are excellent on-website packages in California that allow members to earn AA tiers, but to my knowledge there’s no correspondence software like this,” Derwin stated. “We have heard from a few contributors that due to this magnificence they have gotten concerned within the network university packages. The UC is helping to convey this populace into the community schools. Some of them who are looking at the possibility of parole of their near future need to ultimately try and come to UC Santa Barbara.”

The prisoners do no longer earn grades or college credits for the correspondence course, however they do get hold of a certificate of entirety, diagnosed by way of the prison management, this is brought to their critical file and taken into consideration during parole board hearings.

Aside from Derwin’s periodic in-individual work classes with the scholars, the route is treated totally via mail by means of IHC graduate teaching fellows who provide the men distinct written responses to their essays — comments to take into account and practice to destiny assignments.

Doctoral candidate Adam Morrison became drawn to apply for a teaching fellowship at the direction by way of the danger “to work with a non-traditional and underserved pupil network outside the bounds of a university classroom.” 

“We are all better served whilst we’re capable of increase our teaching and research to new and numerous groups and to encompass their voices and reports in the verbal exchange,” he stated. “It has been a very attractive revel in, and one that has challenged me to actually think about the way I engage my students. Without the advantage of face-to-face interplay, I have had to reflect onconsideration on how I can meet students in a text.”

Fellow teacher and graduate scholar Nicole Dib concurred.

“We’re in a completely unique situation with a view to correspond with these college students,” said Dib, who embraced the possibility to fuse her hobbies in abolition paintings, studies and teaching. “I firmly agree with that studies in the humanities shapes our international, and that literature in particular builds the world round us and helps us see connections between social forces and identities extra absolutely and with greater urgency. To that give up, this route teaches all people worried approximately new components of our world.”

Centered on a married couple who’re the most effective ones in their town to welcomewandering peasants (certainly Greek gods in hide) looking for food and a bed for the night, the Greek fable of Baucis and Philemon explores notions of hospitality, gratitude and sacrifice. The story is the various required studying in Derwin’s path, as is London’s “To Build a Fire,” which speaks to the energy of creativeness and Cisneros’s visceral tale about a girl reliving the recollections of her demise aunt.

Every tale examine and essay written, Derwin stated, presents these unique college students that opportunity for reflection — and a window into new opportunities.

“Don’t we read to discover ways to be with ourselves in the fine manner? Selves we don’t even recognize exist?” she asked. “These guys are discovering components of themselves. They are that little lady alone in an condo. They’re that Greek hero who has flown too close to the solar. They’re the whole lot and that they’re when you consider that they’re many things. It’s teaching at its fine, it’s humanities at its exceptional.”

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