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About Just out. (Portland, OR) 1983-2013 | View Entire Issue (Jan. 21, 2005)
hi)!ì í :ivi
January 21.2005 ’ JUSt Ollt g
hat is the nature of love and
What is the rolu of the
individual in society?
What is the relationship
between power and justice?
Once thought to be the province of stuffy old
professors at Ivy League schixds, these philo-
sophical questions are at the core of a unique
class being taught by Reed College professors to
low-income, disadvantaged Portlanders. The
yearlong “Humanity in Perspective” course, aka
HIP, brings together a diverse group of adults
who learn as much from each other as they do
from the texts they study.
Danny Benton, a 35-year-old gay man living
with HIV, was one of these students. He was
introduced to HIP through Cascade AIDS Proj
ect, and he graduated from the program last
year. A voracious reader who never finished col
lege, Benton was thrilled at the opportunity to
participate in a college-level class.
HIP “is taking back the true notion of
humanities,” says Benton.
The program is administered by Oregon
Council for the Humanities. According to
council director Christopher Zinn, “HIP argues
that people dealing with poverty stand to bene
fit from an intellectual life as much as, if not
more than, other people.”
HIP program associate Jennifer Allen says
the course is based on Aristotle’s idea that
meaning in life comes through time for reflec
tion. She was drawn to the program because it
was not job training, unlike so many education
programs aimed at low-income adults.
For students from CAP, those problems are
not just about economics but also the challenges
A N ew P erspective
Cascade AIDS Project clients thrive in a class
that asks the big questions
I by Meg Daly
of living with a chronic illness. Dawn Thomp
son, Positive Directions coordinator at CAP,
says her clients benefit in many ways from HIP
“HIP offers our clients the opportunity to tap
into parts of themselves they may not have
known were there, such as the ability to read
challenging texts, formulate their own opinion
in writing and to voice themselves within a
group of peers.”
Benton says he wondered how Greek philos
ophy could possibly relate to him when he first
started the class. That was exactly the question
the professors hoped to elicit from students:
How does this relate to me?
“The works were a way to get disenfran
chised people together,” says Benton.
He says the way the class was set up “created
a basis of inclusiveness.” While the issue of
homosexuality came up in class, Benton never
experienced overt homophobia. He says he met
people he wouldn’t have otherwise, and he sus
pects that by the end of the class some people
may have changed their thinking about queers.
In turn, Benton gleaned a renewed sense of
the possibility of community.
“I learned better building-block ideas about
how to relate to others,” he says.
Thompson says the sense of community is a
key element for her clients. “The reading in HIP
offers our clients a chance to identify with great
individuals in history who have also been mar
ginalized—a phenomenon that unfortunately is
still prevalent for many living with HIV/AIDS
W hat I t M eans to B e H uman
eed professor Walter Englert says teaching
the course has been “one of the highlights”
of his academic career. “The HIP students are a
thoughtful, hardworking and courageous group.
They all have faced great obstacles in their lives
that prevented them from pursuing a traditional
path in sphool, but they still have a tremendous
passion for learning.”
Students are recruited for HIP through vari
ous social service and community organizations
serving low-income populations. Prospective
students must apply to the program and are
admitted based on need, enthusiasm and ability
to complete the course. Most applicants have
either not completed college or high school.
Oregon Council for the Humanities covers
tuition, bus passes, child care, btxiks, library
cards and snacks.
One of the biggest challenges facing the pro
gram is its attrition rate. For people living with
HIV/AIDS, illnesses associated with the disease
can create an impediment to full participation.
“The most challenging aspect of the course for
our clients is consistency in attending class twice
a week over a long period due to unpredictable
health concerns,” says Thompson.
Englert says his students’ life experiences are
key elements in the class. Unlike typical college
students fresh out of high schixtl, HIP students
bring real-world perspective to the questions of
what it means to be human, what is death and
should we be afraid of it.
Englert says these questions are “important
ones for all of us, but especially for people living
with a difficult and life-threatening condition
Because diversity and acceptance are
stressed, Englert says gay students are weil-
received in class. “It’s very important for the
discussions of the ancient and mixlem texts we
read that people feel confident that they can
express their views freely and openly. The
discussions are very lively, and people often
disagree with each other, but there is also a real
sense of respect.”
For Benton, the demographics of his class,
which brought together students of different
ages, races and backgrounds, was one of its
biggest rewards. He says you can’t find that kind
of diversity in a typical classroom.
“For individuals who must spend all of their
resources on the struggle to just survive every
day,” Thompson says, “the chance to step into a
free, supportive educational container can be a
blessing, because the soul needs so much more
than food and shelter to thrive. ”jm
M eg D aly is a Portland free-lance writer.
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