Walls to Bridges program instructor Lawrence Hill to present at Laurier

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On Sep. 26, Lawrence Hill, University of Guelph professor and author of The Book of Negroes, is set to come to Laurier to present on his experience as an instructor for the Walls to Bridges creative writing course, offered to students at Grand Valley Institution for Women—Kitchener’s women’s federal prison.

The event will start at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday at the Faculty of Social Work at Laurier’s Kitchener campus, located at 120 Duke St W.

“In order to be a Walls to Bridges instructor, you have to take a five-day instructor training [course] that we offer at the Grand Valley Institution for Women,.” said Dr. Shoshana Pollack, Professor at Laurier’s Faculty of Social Work, and Director of Walls to Bridges Canada.

“Lawrence came and took that training for it with us, and as a result he is now teaching a Walls to Bridges course at the Grand Valley Institution for Women with students from the University of Guelph,” said Pollack. 

Walls to Bridges is an educational program that brings both incarcerated (“inside”) students and non-incarcerated (“outside”) students together to study post-secondary courses in prison classrooms.

Walls to Bridges allows students the opportunity to work alongside each other in a classroom setting, where all the classmates are peers. Both inside and outside students learn the content together, with the goal of earning a course credit.

“Every student, whether they’re incarcerated or not, benefits by getting a course credit if they complete the class, and one of the things it does for people who are imprisoned is [it] gives them access to education—post-secondary education—which is only available in a limited basis through correspondence courses for the women in prison,” said Pollack.

Hill’s creative writing class, which is taking place this semester, consists of approximately 10 University of Guelph students, and 10 students from Grand Valley Institution, all of whom applied for the course by writing a letter of interest.

“When you bring together two groups of students who would not normally have the opportunity to study with one another, it provides the opportunity to break down stereotypes and assumptions that we each have about one another, and in that process, it builds bridges,” Pollack said.

Canada’s program hub, which began in 2011, is based out of Laurier’s Faculty of Social Work, and is partnered with the Grand Valley Institution for Women. Since its start, Walls to Bridges has been able to offer courses at other Ontario universities, including: Ryerson University, York University, University of Toronto, University of Windsor and University of Ottawa.

The universities provide tuition bursaries and the necessary course materials for inside students and pay for the professor’s time while teaching the course.

In a statement on the Walls to Bridges website, Hill is quoted saying, “[Walls to Bridges] exemplifies courageous and innovative ways to expand mutual understanding, intellectual advancement, empathy and respect in Canadian society.”

Since students who complete the course can earn credits for their post-secondary degree, many inside students continue their education upon release; a nod towards the program’s success.

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