Odyssey Project celebrates voting in South Madison

September 16, 2016 By Dean Robbins
Students in the Odyssey Project face barriers to getting an education, and the project helps them overcome those barriers.

Students in the Odyssey Project face barriers to getting an education, and the project helps them overcome those barriers. UW-Madison

Many adult students in the University of Wisconsin–Madison Odyssey Project face barriers to getting an education, including homelessness, incarceration and poverty. Sometimes those obstacles get in the way of participating in elections.

“Some of our students have never voted because they’re living on the margins,” says Odyssey director and UW–Madison English Professor Emily Auerbach. “They may be intimidated by the process or unaware of their rights.”

To demystify wards and ballots for Odyssey students and other community members, Auerbach has organized “A Celebration of Voting” from 2 to 4 p.m. on Oct. 8 at the Urban League Community Room, 2222 S. Park St. The nonpartisan event will include information on where and how to vote, along with refreshments, guest speakers, door prizes, and activities for children. Volunteers from the League of Women Voters will register attendees on the spot, and Odyssey students will read their win

Odyssey Project student Rene Robinson portrays Maya Angelou at Night of the Living Humanities.

Odyssey Project student Rene Robinson portrays Maya Angelou at Night of the Living Humanities. UW-Madison

ning essays on the theme “Why Vote?”

“I can remember the first time I voted,” says Odyssey alumna Nissa Uriostegui. “I remember how nervous I felt when I first walked into the room. When it was all done, I had this feeling of accomplishment. I was part of the bigger picture, and my vote made a difference.”

Each year, the Odyssey Project offers a free two-semester humanities class for 30 people, providing textbooks, child care and a weekly dinner. They earn six credits in English from UW–Madison and gain critical thinking skills and a sense of empowerment. Many go on to complete a college degree and find meaningful work in the community.

The Odyssey class emphasizes civic engagement, with readings from Socrates, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Martin Luther King Jr. Students make connections between historic civil rights struggles and their own lives.

Odyssey Junior is a program for the children and grandchildren of Odyssey Project students.

Odyssey Junior is a program for the children and grandchildren of Odyssey Project students. UW-Madison

“Learning about these heroes often inspires the students to vote,” Auerbach says. “They feel like they’re letting down their ancestors if they don’t participate in the process.”

For 2016-17, Auerbach has expanded Odyssey Junior, the related program for the children and grandchildren of Odyssey Project students. New grants and partnerships will allow for instruction in music, reading, speech, movement and visual art.

Those interested in supporting the Odyssey Project can attend Night of the Living Humanities, a pre-Halloween party at the University Club, 803 State St. Odyssey students and staff will dress as their favorite artist or thinker from the Odyssey humanities course. Attendees also have the option of dressing up, with prizes awarded for best costume. The fundraiser takes place from 5 to 7 p.m. Oct. 27.

“The students’ own experiences fighting injustice and triumphing over adversity make them feel a strong connection with these historical figures,” Auerbach says.