In a recent Inside-Out Alumni meeting regarding the future of the Inside-Out program at the University of Oregon, a student beautifully expressed his hopes:
“I want freshmen coming to the UO wondering when they will take their Inside-Out class.”
Not intended yet latent in this comment (in its implied execution), and the following conversation that I actively participated in, is a threat to the very essence of the Inside-Out program. I did not realize this until later, reflecting on the energy of our ideas and desires.
The comment is an idealist vision of expanding the Inside-Out program to every student in the University without losing the essential qualities that we so treasure now. I believe it is possible, but only with the utmost caution, executed very slowly.
What is it that makes the Inside-Out program so precious to every individual involved? Silly question. If you want an answer, read the entirety of this blog, all of the national Inside-Out literature, and/or take a class. I will talk about one reason it is and has been important to me.
I am a spoiled white boy from an upper-middle class family in Dallas, TX. I recognized this and so fancied that I was able to overcome the limited scope of my interactions and be empathetic with individuals from any walk of life. Inside-Out taught me how foolish that was. One needs experience to imagine beyond; imagination is limited to the transcendence of experiences the mind has had. In my case, this meant that, pre Inside-Out, I felt that every individual was equal. I did not practice that belief, though I did not see the failure. Without recognizing it, because I had never confronted the concept, I pertained to the (I think) common, unconscious belief that inmates, those individuals severed from society because they committed a crime against it, are not equal: in rights, in intelligence, in morals, in essence.
My fear for the essence of Inside-Out is that the equality between ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ students will be lost. The twelve men in the Literature and Ethics Inside-Out class we shared taught me how blind, how ignorantly foolish I was and still am, though now I am striving to find and overcome those prejudices. Before, because I knew there was a doorway through which was equality, I believed I knew what it took to be equal, to treat others equally. Inside-Out allowed me to walk through that door and I stumbled into the wild. Every action is a pursuit of equity. It is another universe of human interaction, of understanding that is never complete and forever indefinable, hence the title of Emmanuel Levinas’ Ethics and Infinity, a series of edited interviews that are symbolic of the philosopher’s deep investigations into ethics. I am still traveling through that wild today, and I believe the reason that Inside-Out has played this monumental role in my life is because, like every student who has participated, I was entirely consumed by the course.
We all threw ourselves into the course, into a voyage of the unknown. I fear that there will be an inverse relationship between the number of students participating in Inside-Out and the sanctity of each class. Part of the excitement and power of the course, though superficial, came from the breathing of rarified air; not many individuals, ‘inside’ or ‘out,’ have had the opportunity to participate in the program. In order for the intellectual, equitable, and ethical focus inherent in the courses to be maintained as more students from a single campus participate, this superficial appreciation experienced now will need to be replaced with ever-increasing investigation into the causes for the power of the course. As the current extraneous factors that assist in the fascination of these courses fade, the content of will need to provide more clearly, and in more depth, the theoretical framework for the reason these courses exist. As superficial respect fades, constitutional respect must become more powerful to maintain the level of commitment and quality of the courses today.
This is why the Inside-Out program has such great potential: in theory, this program should provide an ever-expanding conduit for the understanding for inter-person ethics, through the medium of a state that allows ‘outside’ students to be free and correctly imprisons ‘inside’ students for crimes committed. I do not wish to give the impression that the ‘inside’ students have proven themselves through this course and should be released immediately or in the near future. In fact, it is essential to the courses to recognize that the ‘inside’ students have committed crimes. Through the legal functioning of our State, barring mistrials and faulty evidence (which are a major issue, though one tangential to this discussion), the ‘inside’ students are correctly imprisoned. The power of the course is the transcendence of this imposed inequality. When we sit in a circle and speak to each other, we look into the other’s eyes, and we see the infinite humanity we all participate in.
Undergrad: Political Science
University of Oregon