Free Minds offers free courses for underprivileged adults


Chelsea Purgahn

Free Minds Project Director Viv Griffith leads her students on a tour of the Blanton poetry project on Thursday evening.

Miles Hutson

Tari Jordan wants to teach elementary school English, and Free Minds, a program administrated out of UT, is helping her to do it.

“I thought I knew so much already,” Jordan said. “I don’t want it to end. I love the professors.”

Jordan, a mother of two, said the program should help her go to college and pursue her dream. Free Minds’ free humanities course, which she is enrolled in, took a field trip to UT this weekend in a bid to draw inspiration from the Blanton Museum’s collection. The seven-year-old program is a collaboration between the University’s Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, Austin Community College and Foundation Communities. 

“We want them to become comfortable being on a college campus and to feel that they belong there,” program director Vive Griffith said. “The resources at UT are theirs to explore and use.”

Free Minds aims to help its students, some of whom have never been in a college class, advance themselves in their career paths and lives by using its lessons to potentially go on to education elsewhere. The group hosts a bi-weekly nine-month course at the M Station apartments in East Austin, where two UT professors, two ACC professors and one UT graduate writing student spend both semesters teaching literature, philosophy, history, creative writing and sometimes drama.

“We’re looking for motivation, and then we’re looking for need,” Griffith said. “We’re targeting the people who have barriers in front of them.”

To qualify, students must have a GED or high school diploma and be at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. They must then write an essay and go through an interview for a shot at being a member of the 25-student course.

Griffith, who teaches creative writing in the course, said visiting the Blanton Museum is an opportunity to help with her lesson. Students were expected to write their own poetry on a piece of art after reading and seeing examples.

Teachers in the program say they have learned from their students.

Domino Perez, director of the Center for Mexican American Studies, associate English professor and a three-time teacher for the course’s literature unit, said she gets a different perspective from her students and admires how hard they work.

“Working with people who have not had equal access to education has been humbling. Their mindset is completely different,” Perez said. “They teach me how to see familiar literature in new and exciting ways.” 

Perez said she hopes students see themselves from a different perspective as well.

“I want them to think about themselves as students,” Perez said. “As critical thinkers engaging the world around them.”

Published on March 25, 2013 as "Low-income program increases opportunities".