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Across the Walls courses introduced to College’s curriculum

Next year, the College will offer courses that are open to students and faculty on campus, as well as those who are incarcerated at an associated Maine prison. These courses were created by the Colby Across the Walls Working Group, which consists of faculty members who are committed to building community by expanding access to education.

The Across the Walls program aims to provide educational opportunities to incarcerated individuals who often lack the resources necessary to receive a college education. By expanding access to individuals incarcerated in a Maine prison, the College will offer high-quality education to a traditionally underserved group while building community across Maine. Incarcerated students will be given the opportunity to take a class at the College for free and will be able to gain credits for a degree they may be working towards at another university.

Next year, the College will offer four Across the Walls courses, with two in the fall semester and two in the spring. Each course will be paired with a different Maine prison. Each class will have approximately equal numbers of students based on campus and incarcerated students.

The courses offered next year will be: Gender, Sexuality, Feminism taught by Professor Nazli Konya; Setting the Stage: A Performance Laboratory for Social Justice taught by Professor Raphi Soifer; Activist Art taught by Amber Hickey, and Introduction to Cultural Anthropology taught by Suzanne Menair.

There will also be a third course offered in the spring semester, Carcerality and Abolition, that will be co-taught by Professor Besteman and Leo Hylton, who is currentlyincarcerated.

Professor Catherine Besteman is a part of the Anthropology Department. She has been instrumental in bringing these courses to the College and organizing the Across the Walls Working group. Last fall, she taught the first course at the College to include incarcerated students. This semester, she and Leo Hylton are co-teaching the first course to have an incarcerated person as a professor.

According to Professor Besteman, the goal of the Across the Walls courses is to build community and expand access to education.

“The point of it is twofold,” said Besteman. “One is expanding educational opportunities in Maine prisons for incarcerated people and the other is using education as a tool for building community across the walls.”

Professor Besteman also spoke about the educational philosophy the courses are rooted in.

“We have a particular pedagogical approach for these classes, based in abolitionist pedagogy, which means that the classes are orientated towards a pedagogy rooted in antiracism, trauma-informed approaches, and a desire to use class space for community building across difference across walls,” said Besteman. “The space is a co-learning space based on principles of equity in approach and in access.”

Classes that include both incarcerated students and students based on campus present a few unique logistical challenges. One of these challenges includes finding ways for students to meet in person. These courses will have about six to eight in-person class visits

over the course of the semester. For courses that include residents at a medium or maximum security facility, students will have to commute to the prison for each of the in-person class meetings, as those incarcerated students are unable to come to campus.

Despite the logistical and administrative challenges such courses might present, the Across the Walls courses offered this year were very successful and generated both faculty and student interest. 20 faculty members across multiple academic departments have expressed interest in teaching in the Across the Walls program.

“The three pilot courses taught this year have been really successful,” said Professor Besteman. “We have confidence now that this is a model that is going to work.”

Professor Miller is a professor in the Classics Department, and is a member of the

Across the Walls Working group. Although she will not be teaching on campus next year, she is looking forward to teaching an Across the Walls course when she returns from sabbatical. She plans to teach a course that centers around ancient Greek and Roman myth.

“I think teaching about adaptations of myth and the way key elements of stories can resonate with totally different groups of people, different cultures, and different time periods, in different ways would allow students from such a wide variety of backgrounds and personal life experiences to feel like they have equal voice and perspective in talking about the material,” said Miller.

Miller is excited about the interdisciplinary nature of these courses and wants the classes to be a long-lasting part of the College. She hopes they will build strong relationships between the school and incarcerated individuals.

Classes offered to incarcerated individuals can provide them with valuable opportunities they might not otherwise have. Besteman spoke about what these courses can offer incarcerated individuals.

“Right now there are only two degree-granting universities in Maine who give Bachelor’s and Associate degrees to incarcerated students. Those schools are University of Maine at Augusta and Washington County Community College,” said Professor Besteman. “So, if you’re an incarcerated student and you want to get a B.A., those are your only two options. To be able to take one class at Colby and have that count towards your degree at one of those two places is great because incarcerated students have to pay to go to those other institutions. So, this program enables them to get a little bit further ahead in their programs, which is really great.”

In 2019, The U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that 68% of the released individuals in their observed timeline returned to prison within three years. Education has been shown to correlate with significantly lower recidivism rates: 14% for those who obtain an associate degree, 5.6% for those who obtain a bachelor’s degree, and 0% for those who obtain a master’s degree. The Across the Walls courses will benefit incarcerated students and Colby students alike by increasing educational access and promoting community integration.


~  Veronica McIntyre `24

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