Taking No Prisoners
When TAU master’s student Hiyam Diab signed up for a community theater course, she never imagined she'd end up behind the bars of a maximum security prison. Hiyam was among 13 TAU students leading a theater group at Rimonim prison, one of 140 social activism projects run by TAU just in the last year. This and the other projects are all part of TAU Impact, the University’s trailblazing program designed to embed civic involvement into its teaching curriculum.
TAU Impact allows TAU, as Israel's largest and most diversified university, to harness its resources and know-how toward generating tangible social benefits. The first of its kind in Israel and possibly the world, TAU Impact teaches social activism through accredited courses that integrate cutting-edge knowledge with community engagement projects. This hands-on work in the community is carried out in collaboration with local communities, NGOs and government agencies.
Making a difference in all realms of society
Included in the audience of the play written and performed by Hiyam, her co-students and the prisoners in the framework of the community theater were family members, prison officials and guards, lawyers, judges and even a Knesset Member. The performances gave voice to the prisoners' hopes to one day become contributing members of society, and provided audiences with a thought-provoking encounter.
For Hiyam, taking the course was a particularly powerful experience: "As a social activist in the field of violence against women I'd had contact with victims; this project provided me with an opportunity to meet the victimizers,” she says. “I experienced intense inner conflicts when I found myself empathizing with them, but this is exactly the idea – breaking stereotypes and accepting others, as well as listening and working together in a creative process that can bring about a profound personal, group and social change."
Along with the use of community theater as a method of enriching prison inmates' rehabilitation, TAU students are engaging in a wide variety of other social impact projects in the framework of TAU Impact. They are mentoring youth-at-risk, helping the elderly realize their rights, advancing equality in education for minorities and initiating environmental projects, among other initiatives. Some 15,000 Israeli children, youth, adults and senior citizens benefit from TAU community projects every year; this number is expected to reach over 50,000 annually in the coming years.
In the belief that this program has an educational as well as a community impact, TAU is making TAU Impact mandatory for all undergraduate students. "Our initiative instills a culture of social engagement across campus and cultivates a sense of civic responsibility among our students. It encourages them to use their skills for the benefit of society, not only now but also after they graduate, and to become catalysts of positive social change in Israel," says TAU Dean of Students Prof. Tova Most.