By Irene Hsu
Ursula K. Le Guin’s short story, “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas,” is about a utopian community whose happiness depends on the suffering of one child. Every year, the community is informed of the child — and every year, while the rest of the community is able to come to terms with the atrocity, some members leave the utopia.
When the story is taught at Stanford, undergraduate students often discuss the community’s perspectives and what it means to walk away from the community. When the story is taught 15 minutes away at Hope House, a residential substance abuse treatment program for women, the women consistently discuss the opposite perspective — what it is like to suffer for the sake of others. It is a twist in conversation and interpretation that the co-founder of Hope House Scholars Program, Professor of Philosophy Debra Satz, never anticipated before teaching the program.
Hope House was founded in 1990 by Executive Director Karen Francone. In 2001, Francone worked with Satz, also a director of the Center for Ethics in Society, and Rob Reich M.A.’98 Ph.D. ‘98, Hope House Scholars Program co-founder and faculty director of the Program on Ethics in Society.
Three years ago, Satz and Reich received the 2010 Miriam Aaron Roland Volunteer Service Prize from the Haas Center for Public Service for the program.
“Stanford students are diverse, but these women [at Hope House] can relate Plato and Aristotle to life experiences that are outside of the range of almost all Stanford undergraduates,” Satz, who has taught “Philosophy and Social Justice” with Reich several times since 2001 at Hope House, said.
Every Monday, two professors co-teach a class in the humanities at the house in Redwood City. On Fridays, undergraduate and graduate students tutor the women in the class material and in their writing. Classes taught previously include “Humor in Music,” which is also an introductory seminar on campus, and “The Dinner Party: Exploring Women’s History through Women’s Art.”
Since 2011, graduate students have volunteered to teach during the summer, allowing the program to run yearlong instead of only during the academic year.
After the women complete the Scholars Program, they receive two units of credit from Stanford Continuing Studies and a voucher for another Continuing Studies course.
“The scholars program has become part of the culture at the Hope House,” Francone said. “It helps the women broaden their minds and know that there is a lot more out there to learn about life.”
While Stanford and Hope House said the program has met all expectations structurally, Satz and Berry expressed hope that the program will receive more funding either directly from the University or from other organizations on campus.
Satz’s vision for the Scholars Program includes expanding the program beyond Hope House. She added that she hopes to keep in contact with the women and further reconnect them with education after they have left Hope House, which is currently a 180-day program.
Both parts of Satz’s vision require more funding and faculty than the program currently has.
The program currently runs on little funding, in part because all the members working for the program, including the professors and students, are volunteers, according to Ethics in Society’s executive director Joan Berry.
“I’ve been doing this for 10 years, and it’s amazing how few tutors I cycle through — and it’s because so many tutors stay for multiple quarters,” Berry said.
When the Scholars Program first began in 2001, the women of Hope House were initially resistant to the concept.
“They were rebellious and wondered why they needed to take a university program,” Francone said. “But at Hope House we aren’t just dealing with addiction — we’re dealing with them as a whole person. Taking a course and not knowing if you can do it is like going through recovery — you have to trust the process and trust you can do it, one step at a time. If you take that leap of faith, you may end up leading a very different life.”
Contact Irene Hsu at ihsu5595 ‘at’ stanford ‘dot’ edu.