Powerful new course unites UVic and incarcerated students to learn philosophy


Audrey Yap and alumnus Adam Donaldson ran a pilot project at Wilkinson Road jail in 2018/19 to offer philosophy classes to individuals in custody.
Photo: (l-r) UVic philosopher Audrey Yap and alumnus Adam Donaldson in August 2019 outside the Vancouver Island Regional Correctional Centre, more commonly known as Wilkinson Road jail. Credit: UVic Photo Services.

A first-of-its-kind course will bring students from Vancouver Island Regional Correctional Centre (VIRCC) and the University of Victoria together this fall to grapple with life’s big existential questions. 

The new partnership between UVic’s Faculty of Humanities and BC Corrections puts a powerful spin on experiential learning, with 10 UVic students set to join 10 students “on the inside” for weekly classes starting Sept. 5 for three months. 

UVic philosopher Audrey Yap was inspired to create the new course, called “Conceptions of Justice and Engaged Pedagogy,” after the success of the Inside Out Prison Exchange Program, which runs at two Vancouver Island universities and was founded in 1997 in Philadelphia. 

The UVic course features an important twist—rather than studying criminology as Inside Out students do, the UVic class at VIRCC will be reading and discussing works by the writer Ursula K. Le Guin, feminist scholar bell hooks, civil rights leader Martin Luther King and writer Albert Camus, including his essay “The Myth of Sisyphus.”

“What underlies this course is the transformative power of education, but also different ways of looking at education, in which it is not simply the transmission of knowledge from one party to another, but the co-creation of knowledge by people with different perspectives on and experiences of the world,” says Yap. 

Yap, an associate professor in the Department of Philosophy, ran a successful pilot last year at the Wilkinson Road jail with incarcerated students from VIRCC’s Right Living Community, which uses role modeling, social learning and peer accountability to support positive changes in thinking and behaviour. 

She worked with UVic alumnus Adam Donaldson on the pilot as part of an independent directed study in his fourth year at UVic. He graduated last year with a major in history and minor in philosophy, and is now in Toronto pursuing graduate studies at Osgoode Hall Law School after having worked in policy for BC Corrections while still a student at UVic. 

Yap, who also teaches in UVic’s free University 101 program for students who have faced barriers to education, says the goal of the new course is to make philosophy accessible to the 10 students in custody while bringing the 10 UVic students face-to-face with the principles and practices of restorative justice.

A media kit containing high-resolution photos of Yap and Donaldson is available on Dropbox

See today's Ring story about the new course.

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Media contacts

Dr. Audrey Yap (Dept. of Philosophy) at 250-721-7510 or ayap@uvic.ca

Stephanie Harrington (University Communications + Marketing ) at 250-721-6248 or smharrin@uvic.ca

Tara Sharpe (University Communications + Marketing) at tksharpe@uvic.ca

In this story

Keywords: philosophy, social justice, University 101

People: Audrey Yap, Adam Donaldson, Madeleine Kenyon

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