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Civil Rights Heritage Center offering Clemente Course

News Release Dec 20, 2023

Assistant professor Darryl Heller speaks at a podium for the Civil Rights Heritage Center Darryl Heller, assistant professor of women's and gender studies and director of the CRHCThe Clemente Course in the Humanities, a tuition-free education program, is now being offered at IU South Bend’s Civil Rights Heritage Center. The first cohort began with nine students and is anticipated to expand up to 25 students in future cohorts.

Darryl Heller, assistant professor of women’s and gender studies and director of the CRHC, has been the prime mover in bringing the Clemente Course to South Bend. He was able to secure funding from an IU Affinity Giving grant, a private donor, and additional financial support from the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Social Concerns. The Clemente Course is now fully funded for its first two and a half years. IU South Bend is the first Indiana institution to host a Clemente Course.

Writer and activist Earl Shorris created the program in 1995 at Bard College. It has steadily expanded, bringing accredited college courses to participants who face a variety of socioeconomic barriers to a traditional collegiate education.

Heller, who has taught in prisons in Massachusetts and Illinois, has a long history with Clemente as well, leading his first course in the program immediately upon receiving his Ph.D. in history from the University of Chicago in 2012. In addition to his role as coordinator, Heller is teaching an American history class, and Notre Dame professor Patricia Blanchette is leading a philosophy course. Literature and art history classes will be offered in the spring, and an emphasis on critical thinking and writing is a unifying dimension of the curriculum.

“Discerning critical reasoning skills are fundamentally important to a democratic society,” Heller said. “I personally think that everybody should take at least one philosophy class in their life.”

Along with free tuition, the Clemente Course offers transportation, course materials and child care free of charge. These are the kinds of economic and logistical challenges that often pose insurmountable obstacles to disadvantaged learners.

Nationwide, the Clemente Course has an average student age of 39, and the South Bend chapter is typical of the age range. The oldest student is 75; the youngest are a pair of 18-year-old twins.

“The twins are nontraditional students, and they didn’t do well in a formal education setting,” Heller said. “Their mom said that when they got sick and had to miss a day recently, they tried to talk her into letting them come anyway. She said that’s the only time something like that has ever happened. She had to tell them, ‘No, you’re sick.’ The 75-year-old is in it just because she wants to learn. She lives in an assisted-living semi-retired facility, but she’s been consistent. She writes the papers. She’s engaged. It’s a beautiful thing.”

To learn more about the Clemente Course for the Humanities, visit clementecourse.org. For more information about the Civil Rights Heritage Center, visit clas.iusb.edu/centers/civil-rights.

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