U of W’s urban and inner-city studies program moves to Selkirk Avenue

Students gain unique ground-level view of subject at hand

Director of U of W’s urban and inner city studies program Jim Silver and co-director of Urban Circle Training Centre Sharon Slater both see the program’s move as an chance to provide new learning opportunities. Charmaine Mallari

As elders smudged the site of the new playground and daycare for the University of Winnipeg’s urban and inner-city studies program on Selkirk Avenue, empty beer bottles clanked from the Merchant’s Hotel.

“This is a symbolically powerful contrast,” said Jim Silver, professor and director of the four-year-old program. “Inner-city residents are reclaiming their community, and the University of Winnipeg is thrilled to be a part of this process.”

In July 2010, the program moved in with the Urban Circle Training Centre, an adult education centre with 20 years experience in helping aboriginal people graduate high school and move on to careers.

The recent increase in the number of community and economic development organizations in the North End, Silver notes, makes Selkirk Avenue a uniquely ideal location for U of W students to study and engage with these issues.

Michael Zacharias, long-time North End resident and part-time student currently on break from the program, agrees.

“Studying in the community setting allows you to see directly what’s going on in the community,” Zacharias said.

Both Silver and Zacharias note that the move helps to break down stereotypes about the neighbourhood and its residents.

“Just being here, at the Urban Circle Training Centre, is a learning experience for U of W students,” Silver said. “Students see aboriginal people who are smiling, laughing and joking and doing well.”

Just being here, at the Urban Circle Training Centre, is a learning experience for U of W students ... Students see aboriginal people who are smiling, laughing and joking and doing well.

Jim Silver, director of urban and inner-city studies program, University of Winnipeg

However, for U of W students who travel from the main campus, getting up to Selkirk Avenue on time for class may prove challenging.

To help students in this position, Zacharias suggests staggering class times or providing a shuttle from downtown to Selkirk Avenue.

Sharon Slater, co-director of the Urban Circle Training Centre, hopes this move will also enhance the education offerings available to local residents.

“A number of our Urban Circle students have fears about entering the large U of W campus downtown,” Slater said. “They will now have the opportunity to talk with students who are in university who can help address some of those fears.”

The program has made arrangements with the U of W Registrar’s Office and financial aid to help non-traditional students access the program, notes Silver, as well as ensure that class sizes remain small and personalized, with tutoring, mentorship and access to elders for guidance.

“It’s more viable for local residents to take part in this university program if it is located here,” Slater said.

“Not only is there is a range of personal, academic and emotional supports on Selkirk Avenue, but it’s easier when the campus is within walking distance, your kids are in school in the area and you’re comfortable in your neighbourhood.”

Local residents like Roxane Dorvault are taking the U of W up on this offer.

“The campus location on Selkirk is ideal for me because I work full-time in community development and I happen to work right on Selkirk Avenue,” said Dorvault, co-ordinator of tutoring and mentoring with the Community Education Development Association Pathways to Education program.

“This is also the community I live in so I feel quite comfortable at Urban Circle.”

Published in Volume 65, Number 7 of The Uniter (October 14, 2010)

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