by The College of Education / Jun 19, 2012
The Education Justice Project (EJP) held its Award Convocation on May 24, 2012. The EJP offers education programs to incarcerated students at the Danville Correctional Center, and the convocation was held in the center's gym.
"Under challenging circumstances, EJP students not only learn, but excel," said Rebecca Ginsburg, the Project's director and associate professor in EPOL, adding that the convocation was organized and run by students who had spent months planning the event.
Awards are presented each year for research, critical inquiry, ESL, and writing.
"One judge of the research award noted that the papers submitted for the award were among the very best examples of written work that he's seen in years of teaching at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign," Ginsburg said.
Students also presented awards to instructors at the convocation, representing "a too-rare opportunity for the EJP students to offer hospitality to us, as outsiders, within their 'home' of the prison. They take considerable delight and pride in that," Ginsburg added.
EJP Instructor and C&I Professor Sarah Lubienski recalls how a student approached her before the ceremony, "with a gleam in his eye," telling her about a surprise had had for her. "Then during the ceremony, after I received two carnations in appreciation for my role in EJP, it struck me how happy the students were to finally have an opportunity to give something tangible to the EJP staff."
Student participation was pivotal because "students can articulate the meaning of their education more formally and publicly than in the classroom," said grad student and EJP Instructor Martha Webber. "When Kenneth Davis delivered his salutary address, he spoke powerfully about the 'uniform of shame' he wears each day, the standardized dress that works symbolically to equate his identity with his crime. In EJP, he has found educational opportunities that have taught not only subject matter, but critical thinking skills he uses to reflect upon the shame he experiences as he develops as a scholar and peer-educator."
In addition to student awards, the EJP presented a $500 post-secondary scholarship to a family member of a Danville prison staff member. "It's wonderful to see the ripple effects of EJP's presence at the prison. And it's gratifying to the Danville students to know that through their participation in the program, they're providing opportunities to others," Ginsburg said.
EJP involves about 60 U of I grad students and faculty members in various roles, including instructors, tutors, and program evaluators. "Convocation is a time to recognize and celebrate their hard work and dedication," Ginsburg said. "All in all, it's a happy occasion, at which we recognize how extraordinary it is to have accomplished so much within the confines of a medium-high security state prison."
Top photo: Martha Webber presents a writing award to EJP student Joseph Mapp.
Middle photo: EJP student Spankey Davis was elected by the student body to deliver a speech during the convocation.