Higher Education and Nonprofits

Humanities for Everybody provides access and education

October 3, 2014
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A free program is introducing nontraditional students in the Kalamazoo area to the humanities through the expertise of Western Michigan University professors.

WMU announced the fourth annual launch of the Humanities for Everybody program for low-income to moderate-income residents in the Kalamazoo area, which began last month. The 10-week, college-level program provides access and education for interested individuals at no cost.

Meeting 6:30-8 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 611 W. Lovell St., in the Cooper Apartments, the fall and spring semester program offers noncredit modules in areas such as political philosophy, ethics, sociology of medicine, and gender and women’s studies.

With both semesters divided into two five-week modules, volunteer professors introduce students to Political Philosophy from Sept. 9-Oct. 9, before finishing the fall semester with Ethics and the Good Life from Oct. 21-Nov. 20. Students in the spring semester will participate in Medicine, Bodies and Power, and Introduction to Gender and Women’s Studies.

Designed to provide local non-traditional students access to rigorous education in the humanities field, Humanities for Everybody accepts applications from individuals who are older than 18, demonstrate literacy and complete an interview process.

Randall Janes, program manager and part-time WMU instructor in the history department, said the purpose of the program is to provide university level curriculum in humanities for those in the community who are unable to enroll in a two-year or four-year program due to financial or time constraints.

“I think humanities are crucial,” said Janes. “Humanities were devised to make citizenry more competent and participate in their communities. Beyond just access to college level courses, it is also about sharpening critical thinking skills; to think about things like politics, the way our community functions and how to get involved.”

The benefits include engaging in meaningful dialogue with others who have different perspectives; assistance with critical thinking skills, reading, writing and application preparation; referrals to community support resources and letters of recommendation for graduates based upon performance; and a public graduation ceremony.

Rondel Yarbrough, client services specialist at Kalamazoo Neighborhood Housing Services, said the humanities classes benefit a whole range of people.

“It is a benefit to individuals who want to enrich their intellectual lives: for people who want to go back to school and get their ‘feet wet’; for individuals who have a desire to socialize and build with their community; for individuals looking to improve their reading, writing and debating skills; and for people who would like to develop and sharpen their reflective skills,” said Yarbrough.

With an inaugural graduation class in 2012, Yarbrough said the program initially developed when Scarlett Redman, an AmeriCorps volunteer, Matt Lager, executive director at KNHS, and Rick Stravers, executive director at Open Doors Kalamazoo wanted to create a collaborative program that could enhance the lives of individuals.

“(They) got together and were speaking about the things that made a big difference in their lives, and the humanities were in the center of it all,” said Yarbrough. “They started bringing different people together they thought could help build a program to support their idea of using the humanities to enrich lives.”

Katherine Joslin, an English department professor, said WMU’s role in the collaborative partnership began when the university was invited to join a community conversation regarding the significance of humanities and human flourishing.

“We then formed a consortium with Open Doors and Kalamazoo Neighborhood Housing Services to provide free humanities courses for low-income people who have not finished their educations,” said Joslin. “The first class read Jane Austen’s novel ‘Pride and Prejudice.’ One of the class members has now been appointed to the Kalamazoo School Board — a clear mark of human flourishing.”

The program is sponsored by the University Center for Humanities of WMU, Kalamazoo Neighborhood Housing Services, Open Doors Kalamazoo, and the John E. Fetzer Institute Grant of the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, according to the press release. Although the curriculum has started, applications are accepted on a continuous basis, and students who participate in the Humanities for Everybody program will receive free textbooks, tuition and academic supplies.

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