Center for Prison Education Approved by Wesleyan Faculty

Olivia DrakeMarch 23, 20118min

Wesleyan’s Center for Prison Education was the topic of the March 21 Academic (Technology) Roundtable discussion held in Olin Library. On March 1, Wesleyan faculty formally approved the program to extend beyond its initial two-year pilot phase to become a long-term facet of the university. Over the next five years, the CPE will admit additional cohorts of incarcerated students at Cheshire Prison, as well as create a second college campus at York Prison for women in 2012.

Lexi Sturdy ’10, the CPE’s full-time fellow, explains how the program offers a high-caliber liberal arts education to incarcerated individuals. Wesleyan faculty teach courses in the humanities and the natural and social sciences, while Wesleyan undergraduates serve as writing tutors and class assistants. “We are deeply proud of our inaugural class of incarcerated students, whose academic achievements were documented in a thorough assessment report which confirmed that they well met Wesleyan standards of academic rigor,” Sturdy says.

Lori Gruen, chair and associate professor of philosophy, associate professor of feminist, gender and sexuality studies, taught "History of Political Philosophy" last fall. The class content, she says, is identical to material she’d teach at Wesleyan. “The learning curve is very steep, but the men are deeply intellectually curious and inspired. The incarcerated students don’t have the opportunity to get extra help, like Wesleyan students do, but they succeed anyway. It’s a transformative experience," she says.

Michael McAlear, chair and associate professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, encourages Wesleyan faculty to consider teaching a CPE course. McAlear taught “Chemistry and Biology in the Modern World: A survey of Drugs and Disease” in 2010. “Some of the men didn’t know what a molecule was, so it made me consider and present the material from a different perspective,” he says. “I found the CPE class to be the most rewarding and challenging course that I have ever taught.”

Cathy Crimmins Lechowicz, director of Community Service and Volunteerism and CPE program manager, explains how there are currently more African American men incarcerated than enrolled in college. By extending the program five additional years, Wesleyan will be able to teach 32-36 incarcerated students in 2011-12. When released from prison, the former inmates will be able to transfer their Wesleyan credits to another university or community college, and complete an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. (Photos by Olivia Drake)

More information on the Wesleyan Center for Prison Education program is online here.