A Look at Walls to Bridges’ First Semester in BC

The program enabled students both inside and outside incarceration facilities to find their confidence

Jayde Atchison // Staff Writer

As the fall semester came to an end for students in all faculties, a graduation ceremony was held for eight incarcerated students involved in Capilano University’s Walls to Bridges program.

The 100-level Geography class was held at the Fraser Valley Institution for Women with eight CapU students and eight incarcerated women. They were nervous at the beginning of the term but through ice breakers and socializing, both inside and outside students started to warm up to one another. “It really didn’t take long before students felt fairly bonded with one another and started to see that there were a lot of similarities between the two groups,” said Kirsten McIIveen, Capilano University instructor and facilitator of the program.

While this was a university credit course, the setup was unlike any class offered on campus as the students were situated and taught using a circle pedagogy. “The pedagogy is such that nobody felt excluded or isolated and the hierarchy is really diminished. I [took] a background role after the first couple of classes and simply [facilitated] discussion but really it[was] very student-lead,” said McIlveen.

Both McIlveen and Pouyan Mahboubi, the Dean of Arts and Sciences, were happy to see the confidence between the students grow as the course continued on. Incarcerated students were encouraged to share their valued opinions and life experiences which increased self-esteem. For McIlveen, the best feeling was witnessing the progress of a student from maximum-security. “She had never written papers but by the end of the third paper, she didn’t bring it to the office hours because she felt she was confident in how she had organized her paper,” reflected McIlveen.

“Many never really thought they could possibly pull something like this off, to do a university credit course and they did,” said Mahboubi. “I don’t know what support system they have outside, but we were there with 20 or so attendees to honour their completion and I think that also meant a lot to them.”

Capilano is a teaching-intensive university, so adopting this program was not an unreasonable goal. “Our mandate is to provide an education to all people…this was an underserved population who had a strong desire to learn and it is very much within our mandate to try to do what we can to provide that education. It’s part of the core philosophy of the university—to make education accessible to everyone,” explained Mahboubi.

Although the program went well, there were barriers to overcome as this was the program’s first run in BC. McIlveen and students fought to keep the guards outside the room during class time, as well for snacks to be brought in the room. Food was an important aspect of the socializing that began each session. After countless phone calls and emails to the prison to sort out these issues, McIlveen believes that the program should run smoother from this point on.

The University of British Columbia is in the process of following CapU’s lead, and the University of Fraser Valley is hoping to get involved too. However, sustainable funding is required for more institutions to become a part of the program. The cost to run the program was just under $20,000 which included waived tuition for the inside students, faculty wage, travel and other expenses.

Both the inside and outside students are forming a collective that will continue to shape and govern the way the program is run. “It was really clear early on that everybody wanted to form this collective so that we could keep meeting one another. The outside students are really committed to it, as are the inside students. By February we’re going to get passes for the inside students so we can meet on the outside, which means that [the] prisoners that are released can come back and join,” said McIlveen.

Every university gains funding in their own way, and for this last semester, a faculty member at Capilano University started a GoFundMe page to gather donations for refreshments and other expenses. Other faculty members offered to over-enroll their classes to make up for the small numbers of the Walls to Bridges class. This teamwork has made the program possible and displayed the importance of making education available to everyone.

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