As students, we each arrive at UBC in our own unique way: guidance counsellors, family loyalties, or specific interests carve the routes we follow to this particular university. In turn, we become familiar with UBC as we shape new paths, following our own intellectual, political, and social interests between the courses, clubs, and friendships we make. For me, the Humanities 101 Community Programme was one such path.
Like many Arts students, I tried my hand at what seemed like every discipline on offer before finally settling on English studies. Roughly around the time I made this decision, I came across a poster for Humanities 101–or Hum, our affectionate nickname for the programme. The poster partially read:
Humanities 101—university set free: Free university-level education for low-income people with a passion for learning who live in & around the Downtown Eastside + Downtown South.
The programme appealed to me, and when I found out that UBC students volunteered as discussion facilitators and writing tutors, I immediately inquired about getting involved. When I later learnt that Hum also offered Work Learn positions, I jumped at the prospect of a more involved role.
As a small community programme, Hum’s annual intake transpires in two main ways: through word of mouth and by postering in the communities that Hum serves. Because I lived in the neighbourhood, I also happened to encounter one of these posters. For me, it’s special that I arrived at Hum in the same way as many of our students: by way of a poster.
I tell this story in part, too, because I think it highlights the importance of being aware of, present, and involved in our communities, including those places we call home. As students in the Arts we often hear that jobs are located elsewhere, in other faculties, like STEM or business. Jobs, of course, exist in other—more familiar—places, too; we just have to look for them a little more creatively. You might say that I came to Hum through the front door, and to Work Learn through the window!
Hum offers four unique courses (Humanities 101, 201 and Writing 101, 201), all of which complement and build upon one another. As Hum’s Volunteer Coordinator, I recruit, hire, and train volunteers, ensuring that they possess the skills and confidence to support Hum’s students. I also assist in the production of Hum’s annual publication, which highlights the work of each year’s graduates. My role is flexible, responsive, and intensive, and the editorial and publication skills I’ve gained through this project alone are worth an entire Work Learn position in and of itself!
Because Hum is such a small programme, the staff and I share many additional responsibilities and I’ve gained an abundance of knowledge regarding the intricate runnings of a community programme, ranging from the administrative to technical, from the educational to the nitty gritty, and from the emotional to the interpersonal. Trust, therefore, is paramount—and it is incredibly encouraging to work with people who are not only confident in your capacities, but also hold you accountable to your work. One of the most important teachings I’ve taken away was gained through working within a set of programme policies addressing, specifically, consent and confidentiality. Many of the people who come to Hum are accustomed to being researched, advocated for, and talked about. To counter this negative climate, Hum has carefully designed protocols for the faculty, staff, volunteers, and participants involved with the programme. These principles are influenced by the First Nations’ guidelines of OCAP: ownership, control, access, and possession.
Through my work with Hum I have gained a vital set of skills that have translated into other work areas, such as dealing with sensitive information, and being responsible to your educational and career commitments. As a student, I witnessed these practices translate into more careful, critical, and engaged scholarship–in my own classes, as well as within the Hum classroom.
As someone committed to social justice work and who is interested, more broadly, in educational projects, this Work Learn position saw the two paths converge and has prepared me for future work in education, community organizing, and publishing. This position also connected me to a community of people and organizations (in town and across Canada) who are all working hard to make access to education easier. While my Work Learn position is over, I’m committed to continuing my participation in this work. Now, having graduated, I’m returning to Hum as a volunteer!