On my first visit to the Travis County Correctional Complex, I was asked if I was visiting an inmate for the first time.
“No, I’m a volunteer.” As I said the words, I realized I was making the distinction because I didn’t want to be seen as someone who has friends or family in jail. I was coming to teach a class inside, but I was already guilty of stigmatizing my students.
My preconceived notions went out the window on my first day of class. After introducing my students to Che Guevara and our text, The Motorcycle Diaries, we had a thoughtful discussion on freedom, political ideals, and the role of an individual in society. My students were insightful and engaged, and grateful for the opportunity to learn.
As we talked about Che’s eventual role in the Cuban Revolution, the students were quick to label him a “bad guy.” After all, they reasoned, he was a Communist and an enemy of the US. My co-teacher, Nina Cline, encouraged the students to ”complicate” their definition of good and bad, and I realized that I needed to do the same. Reading World Literature has given both the students and me a chance to challenge our biases, and I look forward to seeing where the rest of our class takes us!