Humanities 101 Helps Vulnerable Adults Attend University

Imagine if you wanted to go to university, but had no support.

No parents to help you pay tuition. No friends to encourage you. No job and nowhere to live. What if you simply believed that you were not worthy to study at the university level? That could be the biggest barrier of all.

TracyRay Lewis was at that place in her life — the lowest place — when she discovered Humanities 101.

Back in 2005, she was living on the streets of Calgary. She had recently entered an addictions rehabilitation program and was struggling to stay sober. A counsellor found a flyer for a new program called Storefront 101 and encouraged her to look into it. She suddenly found herself in a place she never imagined she’d belong: a university classroom.

“For me, a classroom was a place where I got in trouble, where I acted out, where I got punished,” she said. “So I was pretty freaked out.”

TracyRay was one of the first students to attend Humanities 101 (then called Storefront 101) when it was launched downtown at The Mustard Seed.

At that time, St. Mary’s University worked with other post-secondary institutions to bring free university-level courses to people experiencing poverty, abuse, addiction or homelessness. Courses are rooted in the humanities and have included English Literature, History of the Canadian West, Philosophy, Art History, and Cultural Anthropology.

TracyRay enjoyed the courses — “I realized that I could do the work” — but voices from her past continued to haunt her.

“As a young adult, I was told that I was not the kind of person that’s allowed to go to university.” In time, the classroom became a safe place for TracyRay. As she progressed through her recovery, she enrolled in classes at St. Mary’s. In 2013, she graduated from St. Mary’s University with a Bachelor of Arts in English.

“When you’re in a liberal arts classroom and you’re having problems, it’s your responsibility to speak up,” she said.

“And when you learn to speak up, you learn to make your way in the world. Humanities 101 gives people a voice.”


$163,930: Full program sponsorship for one year
$2,100: Total cost for one student to take one course
$425: Hot meal for the whole class for one night
$200: Class material for one student for one term
$150: One full week of study for one student
$75: One class for one student
$25: Food for one student for one week

Tracy Ray Lewis portrait on campus for Humanities 101

TracyRay Lewis often speaks publicly about her personal experiences with homelessness. She works as a researcher and advocate on behalf of people living on the street or in shelters.