Prison is the ideal classroom for new urban studies course

Each Friday early morning this semester, the 24 students in MIT course 11.469 (Urban Sociology) have traveled 1 of 2 paths to class.

Half them gather at 6:50 a.m. in Cambridge, Massachusetts, clamber right into a rented van for the hour-long drive, and then make their way through the long protection screening. Another 12 have a quick walk — from their cells.

The students convene within a area during the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Norfolk (MCI-Norfolk), the greatest medium-security jail within the condition, in which collectively they go into another realm — one in which the tips of Max Weber, Émile Durkheim, and W.E.B. DuBois tend to be talked about along with topics eg desegregating Boston public schools.

Conceived and taught by Justin Steil, assistant professor of legislation and urban preparation inside MIT division of Urban Studies and Planning (DUSP), the course covers core foundational texts in metropolitan sociology. But it’s also “an possibility to develop brand-new information about the drivers of metropolitan inequality,” he claims. “The wide range of experiences on both sides creates a whole lot more effective conversations concerning the nature of urban inequality and prospective reactions.”

The DUSP contingent is just a mixture of masters and doctoral students. Their class mates at MCI-Norfolk tend to be signed up for a bachelor’s degree system, making credits from Boston University’s Metropolitan university.

The MCI-Norfolk pupils are a definite racially and financially diverse team, varying in age from mid-20s to 60s. They are serving a variety of sentences. “Some escape in the next several years,” says Steil, “some are providing life without parole.”

“When you put that diverse crowd collectively, and everyone has actually their very own perspective, your interpretation and comprehension of these texts is really different,” says doctoral student Aditi Mehta, the training assistant for course. “So the idea you have actually these types of various lived experiences to-draw from is really effective.”

To assist bridge those divergent experiences on first-day (which, Mehta observes, is “always only a little uncomfortable in just about any class”), the instructors distributed 12 historic and contemporary photographs to sets of MCI-Norfolk and MIT students, who analyzed and described the social processes they saw working. “The concept would be to notice that everybody is taking understanding to your classroom, that we’d be working together and mastering from one another,” claims Steil.

That first-class in addition launched a concept that resonated deeply aided by the students: C. Wright Mills’s idea of the “sociological imagination.”

“The pupils keep coming back for this idea,” says Steil. “How do we consider our specific experiences in relation to collective experiences and record, and our invest it? What are the commonalities and variations within our experiences?”

One incarcerated student noted the multiple perspectives inside class that made possible brand new forms of conversations about inequality, incorporating: “Two categories of strangers essentially came together from two different worlds and formed a class room dynamic that can’t be duplicated.”

For MIT and MCI-Norfolk students alike, it’s a demanding program, concerning approximately 200 pages of theory-laden readings each week, regular reaction documents, student-led presentations, a midterm reflection report, and a final paper. Through discussions associated with the texts and differing in-class team activities, the students have built a powerful connection.

Sets of MIT and MCI-Norfolk students lead a conversation according to each week’s readings, frequently linking all of them for their own lived experiences and current activities. Doctoral student Laura Delgado and her task partner structured a discussion based on readings about personal capital and social support systems, making use of as example the Metco system, whereby pupils in Boston general public schools can attend schools in suburban communities.

Prisoners don’t have Web accessibility, so task groups can’t count on email or other digital interaction resources to map down their particular strategy. Rather, students utilize the 15-minute break during each week’s course to prepare their presentations.

“It was a good discovering knowledge, and good to be able to develop it across semester collectively,” says Delgado. “My task partner was really proactive. We arranged a reading routine, a deliberate procedure to pace ourselves and also time to prepare.”

The course ended up being made possible partly with a grant from MIT’s Priscilla King Gray public-service Center, which enabled the DUSP students to go to MCI-Norfolk in the hired van weekly. It was a clear fit with the PKG Center’s mission to help pupils work collaboratively with communities beyond campus.

“Justin’s proposal ended up being a forward thinking method of both enriching the training of MIT students and boosting higher education opportunities for typically over looked population,” says Alison Hynd, manager for programs and fellowship administrator at PKG Center.

A number of the incarcerated students have actually expressed how the course has given them confidence because they prepare to reenter community and inspiration to keep discovering.

“One of the most unforgettable course sessions for me was one out of which we took part in a debate,” one student from MCI-Norfolk published. “I had a understanding regarding the material and could defend it well. Getting ‘well dones’ from my class mates, particularly the MIT students, had been a emphasize. It proved to me that I’d something to offer even amongst great minds.”

“The course has actually influenced me to work toward earning a master’s degree,” wrote another, “when i’m finally released.”

When it comes to MIT pupils, Steil says this course has inspired some to activate more deeply with prisoners’ dilemmas in the years ahead. “One of this students is extremely contemplating the experiences of prisoners reentering culture whenever they’re introduced,” he claims. “For the woman last paper she actually is focusing on developing a map of stakeholders engaged in reentry dilemmas and considering ways that students from the course in Norfolk, who will be getting their bachelor’s degree in jail, can find opportunities to engage in study work later.”

“As an instructor, I feel incredibly lucky to try this,” he claims, “finding how to deliver MIT pupils beyond the Kendall Square area to-be area of the metropolitan location we-all reside in, and teaching and understanding utilizing the wider communities to which we’re linked.”