“While I was participating in the program, my friends often asked me with a sense of awe and admiration, “are you not scared?” They rarely asked me, “what book are you teaching?” or “what did you discuss today?” I was teaching the Russian novel We by Yevgeny Zamyatin and I had many memorable and interesting class discussions to share. However, the question on everyone's mind was how I was handling my fear. I think this question is the most asked question in any community service, charity, or philanthropic endeavor that pushes people to go beyond the comfortability of their own insular environment.
In our current political climate where religion is often associated with a rhetoric of fear, it was important for my personal faith to go back to the original Hebrew meaning of justice. That's what I thought teaching We in the Travis County Correctional Complex was, it was definitely not “charity” in the strictest sense; it was for me, restoring the right kind of relationship between people; a relationship between a teacher and a student which was not predicated on our social status. My students worked with me diligently and together we deepened our understanding of the novel. Whenever I was passionately discussing We with my students, I often thought to myself this is exactly what education should look like. The amusing thing is never did I expect to feel this way at a correctional complex.” - Chienyn Chi, Program in Comparative Literature, UT Austin