Stories from the Humanities 101 Programme

By Dr. Margot Leigh Butler, Academic Director

Class photo from the Humanities 101 program, April 2008. Photo submitted by Dr. Margo Butler.

Class photo from the Humanities 101 program, April 2008. Photo submitted by Dr. Margo Butler.

“To me, writing has become a way of coping with life. Ten years ago I was living in the streets of the Downtown Eastside, a chronic alcoholic, a drug addict. I started to attend a life skills class at the Pride Centre. There I analyzed why I was a drug addict. I stopped focusing on the problem and started looking for the solution. I had a hard attitude, no love, no remorse, no self-esteem. I found out that what I had to deal with was childhood traumas such as severe sexual abuse and physical abuse. In order to understand my mother, I went to Residential School Healing Counseling courses for ten months. I hated anything to do with God and the church, so I went to Bible College for four years. I found that the way to healing for not only me, but thousands like me, is education.”—Sylvia Sharon Isaac, Humanities 101 Class of 1998-09, Writing 101 Class of 2006-07 (from the Humanities 101 2006-07 Yearbook).

Perhaps some of you know Sylvia Sharon Isaac, who is such a powerful advocate of education — if not, I hope you’ll meet her sometime. Sylvia’s inspiration and encouragement means a great deal to many people, as does her ongoing involvement in and support of the Humanities 101 Community Programme at UBC. She was in the very first class in 1998, and returned last year to take another course and to see how the programme has grown and changed over the years.

The programme started as a single course and now offers three courses, all of them free, non-credit university-level courses for residents of the Downtown Eastside and surrounding areas who are passionate life-long learners, and who are living on low incomes. Many of our students volunteer at places such as the Downtown Eastside Women’s Centre, Carnegie Centre, and the Vancouver Recovery Club where Hum101 (as the programme is affectionately known as) does information and application sessions twice a year to find new students. All students receive bus tickets to get to and from UBC for each class, vouchers for meals on campus, payment for needed child care, plus books, school supplies, and UBC student cards. What students bring to class, however, is valuable in immeasurable ways: their enthusiasm, keenness, canniness, diligence, generosity, life experience, and their senses of humour, to name just a few.

Perhaps the best way to describe the different elements of the programme is to imagine one person, let’s say his name is Jack Barry, who has been involved in all aspects of Hum101 for a number of years. He volunteer teaches math and English at the Carnegie Centre and he is a regular at the Hum101 Steering Committee meetings — which are held every 6-8 weeks, also at the Carnegie Centre — which guides all aspects of the programme. Jack has been a student in Writing 101, a twelve week course offered twice each year, which meets on Tuesday evenings and, with the guidance of volunteer teachers, studies and practices creative, academic, and business writing. He has also taken the core course, Humanities 101, which lasts for eight months, meets twice a week (Tuesday and Thursday evenings), and which touches on a wide array of disciplines in the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences. Each week in this course, we take up a new topic, often a new discipline, and always with challenging readings and the opportunity to discuss, debate, write, and share thoughts in class and afterward. I think that Jack’s favourite teacher might well be William Lindsay, worthy editor of this publication and volunteer teacher of First Nations Studies for Humanities 101. All of our teachers — intellectuals from UBC and elsewhere — seem to bring their very best, each condensing years of knowledge and teaching expertise into their week’s sessions. Some graduatesof this course offer to come back for another year as mentors to help run the course and support new students, staff, and volunteers. As you might have guessed, though he may seem to be a dream, this Jack Barry is for real and here is what he wrote in the 2007-08 Hum101 Yearbook:

“Being a mentor for the past year at Hum101 has been a very rewarding experience. A great deal of knowledge and people skills were gathered in the past twelve months. Learning never ceases to exist; a person unwittingly starts gaining knowledge from the time they get up in the morning to the time they drop off to sleep at night. Every little routine we encounter during the day, our ups and downs, good and bad can be thought of as a life learning experience. But first, what does mentor mean? What does it mean to be a mentor? In the most basic terms,

a mentor is a leader, coach, and a role model all wrapped into one….A mentor achieves a special kind of rapport with their students, helping them to learn things they never would have believed they could understand, which gives the student confidence in their own ability to learn.”

Jack — who by the way, is an Ojibway from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario — and fellow Hum101 mentor Phil Smith are spearheading plans for the tenth anniversary celebration of Humanities 101 which will take place on November 29, 2008 at the Native Education College in Vancouver. If you or someone you know has taken a Hum101 course in the past, we sure hope to see you there — and with over 300 graduates, we are anticipating quite a shindig!

If you would like to know more about the Faculty of Arts’ Humanities 101 Community Programme – to apply for a course, to volunteer to teach or facilitate class discussions, or to donate – please see our website at, phone 604-822-0028, or email us at You are also most welcome to come to any of our public programmes which are held on the Downtown Eastside, and which are listed on our website.