| Humanities 101 broadens educational capacity

New initiative offers people with mental illness accessible education

For people with mental illness, post-secondary educational institutions can often be inaccessible, due both to their limited teaching methods and their generally restrictive admittance. Fortunately, initiatives such as Humanities 101 – launched in September 2012, and spearheaded by former McGill Social Work student Portia Larlee – are working to dismantle these barriers.

Humanities 101 is run out of Forward House, a community organization dedicated to providing community-based mental health services. The course offers discussions and workshops, and is specifically targeted towards people with mental illness.

“I started reading a lot about radical humanities in other places in Canada; a big part of it was learning to think critically about the systems they were involved in, and feel empowered by this knowledge instead of weighed down by the systems,” Larlee explained in an interview with The Daily.

The initiative offers a wide range of discussion topics, including history of film, climate change, radical black activism, Indigenous issues, and anti-oppressive media.

In the past year, 16 lectures have already been given. “It has opened my mind up to a lot of things I haven’t thought of before,” said a participant of the project, who wished to remain anonymous. “It was nice just being able to go in to a place like McGill, even if just for a short period of time. We can feel like we have access to something most of us don’t.”

Professors, lecturers, and students of the McGill community volunteered their time to teach the class. Adam Cantor was one of these volunteers, facilitating a class on the history and function of film editing. For Cantor, it was a humbling experience.

“One thing that struck me was that while I was showing some film sequences that are quite common in film studies, some of the people at Forward House found the violence and the intensity of the scenes too much to bear and asked me to turn it off,” Cantor recounted to The Daily. “I felt like the message of the film with regards to senseless violence and political brutality got through to [them] in a way it can’t to me.”

According to Larlee, these emotional reactions took place in many of the classes and discussions. “For me, what’s missing a lot of the time in academia are the voices of those living through what people in universities are theorizing.”

The participants from Forward House were equally enthralled with the professors and lecturers that offered their time.

“I had no idea what I was getting into and I found all the lecturers and topics to be very original,” said another anonymous participant. “One of the things that impressed me the most was that the professors took us seriously.”

The project hopes to resume in fall 2013 with new and returning topics and participants.


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