Humanities 101 (Hum) is part of an educational movement doing free university-level education with low income communities. Supported by residents of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and Downtown South (DTES/South) and UBC people, it is the oldest and largest programme of its kind in Canada. Launched in 1998, it is sponsored by the Dean of Arts and private donations, largely from UBC alumni. Hum is part of the cultures of both UBC and the Downtown Eastside/South, with many informed practices for ensuring that Hum is a responsible and trustworthy member of both communities. This is crucial considering the way institutions can approach and use residents in the DTES/South for research and to manifest/implement priorities.
Hum participants are people with diverse backgrounds and knowledge who live in the DTES/South and nearby areas, and are working to overcome obstacles and roadblocks – financial, educational, institutional, governmental, health and social. Participants comprise youth, adults and senior citizens who are insecurely housed, homeless, under-housed and/or displaced. Their experiences living as Indian residential school survivors and intergenerational survivors, refugees, sex workers, survivors of gender and racialized violence, former prisoners; and experiences of living with severe poverty, mental and physical illnesses and addictions/recovery are respected through practices of consent and confidentiality.
The Programme attracts education activists who are participants, alumni, volunteer teachers, facilitators and supporters, and is committed to being responsive and situated. There are four free university-level courses. Every week, Hum classes focus on a different subject and academic discipline with a different teacher, all focused on relevant, interdisciplinary critical and creative practices. Though non-credit, Hum101 and Hum201 are the equivalent of 12 credit courses, and Writing101 and Writing201 are the equivalent of three credit courses. Hum created a Faculty Advisory Committee of dedicated Hum teachers in 2014, and has close ties with faculty and staff at the Institute for Critical Indigenous Studies.
Hum also runs Public Programmes in the DTES/South initiated and led by participants and alumni: study groups, workshops and a long-running documentary film series at Carnegie Centre. All past and current participants are members of Hum’s Steering Committee which meets regularly and guides all aspects of the Programme.
Hum alumni have spoken about the Programme in these ways: for some people, Hum is a catalyst for self-knowledge that inspires and activates – if the moment’s right, it can help to get momentum going. The courses are a dedicated time and space for inquiry, and an opportunity to meet like-minded people who love learning. This mix of people coming together, giving and taking knowledge, are in reciprocal relationships of learning based on their own expertise and also open to new visions. In class and in Public Programmes, there is a mutual flow and exchange of a variety of knowledge and responses to ideas, and this goes for everyone involved – participants, volunteer teachers and facilitators, and staff. For participants, there’s no pre-requisites, so you start where you are. Some have travelled through the eye of a storm in their lives, persevered and refuse to allow themselves to be restricted from education, further learning and ways of being. Hum participants and alumni are involved in the Downtown Eastside/South and UBC in many ways, and for years.
As of 2015, there are more than 750 Hum alumni, and many more people enmeshed in the seven sister programmes across Canada and worldwide.