by Aparajita Bhandari

Reaching out from the ivory tower

Universities are amazing places of scholarship and innovation but they can also be very insular and exclusive communities. I’ve recently realized that it’s really easy to get caught up in the world of academia, the world of tests and GPAs and dissertations and research funding and extra curriculars, and forget that there’s a world outside of one’s lecture halls. Going to university is becoming more common, but higher education still is a privilege that not everyone can afford, a distant “ivory tower”. The goal of a community outreach program called Humanities for Humanity, started almost 8 years ago, is to make this ivory tower more accessible and “porous”.

Universities must be careful not to become just ivory towers, indifferent to the world outside of academia.

Humanities for Humanity

Designed to provide learning opportunities to people who otherwise might not be able to experience a university education, the program was started in 2006 at Trinity College by the then Dean of Students Kelley Castle and her husband John Duncan, director of Trinity College’s Ethics, Society and Law program and it is. Participants are recruited from community centres, churches, shelters and job-training programs and are paired with student mentors in a small seminar classroom setting .The original program, Humanities for Humanity, covered readings from literature, philosophy and political science and became really popular in the years that it was held at Trinity College.

In 2010, Dean Castle moved from Trinity College to Victoria College, where she is the Dean of Students to this day. With her she brought the Humanities for Humanity program, which is now a joint venture between Victoria and Trinity Colleges. The program has now been expanded into an umbrella program called Ideas for the World, which includes many different seminars and sessions offered during the day and in the evening. The program is really popular among community members and, a little unexpectedly, also among students. I think that many students want to be engaged in programs and activities that they feel make a difference in the world—they want experiences that’ll change their lives and perspectives, which is what Ideas for the World offers.

I learned about Ideas for the World from one of my professors, who brought up the program when my class was discussing whether universities have become too removed from the communities in which they exist. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the roles that universities fill and I think that academic institutions definitely have a responsibility to the community. The goal of higher education should always be to try to better the world in whatever way possible, and I think that Ideas for the World seems to be one such program that attempts to do that.

Current Victoria College Dean of Students Kelley Castle.

Find out more

If you want to learn more about the program, it has received a lot of media coverage:

Former student Daniela Rupolo made a short documentary about the program and her experience with it, which summarizes the program really well:

Have you guys had experiences where you broadened your view by venturing outside the walls of the ivory tower? Tell us about it in the comments below!