photo of booksThe doors of the "ivory tower" recently opened a bit wider in Kalamazoo, thanks to a community collaboration that includes a Good Neighbor Grant from the Kalamazoo Community Foundation.

Humanities for Everybody is a program sponsored by the University Center for the Humanities at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo Neighborhood Housing Services and Open Doors. The program offers free classes in art history, literature, philosophy, history and writing, all taught by experienced WMU professors. The goal is to provide low- to moderate-income residents with access to university-level education in the humanities.

Rondel Yarbrough is the program coordinator for the project, which began this year with 12 participants. "We offered three five-week modules between January and May," he explains. "The students met twice a week for an hour and a half, completed homework and actively participated in class discussion and debate."

The three modules included "The Literature of Jane Austen," taught by Dr. Thomas Bailey; "The Philosophical Foundations of Education," taught by Dr. Dini Metro-Rolan; and "The African Experience in the Americas from the Beginnings to the Civil War," taught by Dr. Mariam Konate Deme.

According to Yarbrough, students come from among those who have not had traditional access to education but are eager to learn. "For example," he says "we enrolled three homeless men and two individuals who are recovering addicts. Some of our students didn’t even have a high school diploma or GED."

Students in the Humanities for Everybody program coalesce into an intimate community of learners. They are given tools and opportunities to become more reflective, re-engage in the community and experience first-hand the potential that education has to transform their lives. In fact, there have already been practical outcomes for some members of the class. One participant just took her GED test in May, and another is scheduled for June. One man, who was essentially homeless, is now employed. And another young lady has won a scholarship and started classes at Kalamazoo Valley Community College.

According to Yarbrough, classes will start again in September for up to 20 participants. There will be five different modules of five weeks each this time, and students will be able to opt in and out of different modules. Topics will include Shakespeare and the history of Michigan.

"We have a backlog of about 30 professors who are eager to teach these classes," notes Yarbrough. "Which says a lot about both the students and the instructors. For us, the bottom line is that education is for everyone."