Social justice fair examines mass incarceration, racial justice

MEDIA, Pa. — Penn State Brandywine’s annual social justice fair, held the week of April 12, focused on the theme of “Mass Incarceration and Racial Justice.” The weeklong series of events was hosted by Brandywine’s Center for Ethics and Civic Engagement, in partnership with Penn State Abington Student Engagement and Leadership and Penn State World Campus Student Affairs.

Nearly 400 participants attended the events, including students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members.

Brandywine students Brisa Luzzi Castro and Jasmine Century participated on a panel with Penn State alumni discussing their experiences as students of color, and they attended many of the events.

“Social justice is something that we need to constantly be working for, and there's so much to do,” Luzzi Castro said. “Having college students and faculty and staff get involved in this just shows that we're trying to work for it. We're raising awareness and education, and it's just great that we're able to do something about it and talk about it.”

“I definitely learned a lot about mass incarceration and criminal justice, and how race is such an essential factor in it,” added Luzzi Castro, who also created a video for a student panel discussion on racial justice. “And I learned ways that we can reform it, ways that we can get involved on local levels, and the large goals for the long run.”

“I think the social justice fair was important because there's a lot of things going on right now,” Century said. “This is another step toward fixing it by having these fairs. My being there is important because I can get other people like me to say, ‘Look, OK, maybe this isn't so bad. She has a voice. She's talking. It seems like things are getting done when she's talking. Maybe I'll stand up and do something instead of sitting on the bench when things are happening.’”

Vippy Yee, Rosenberg Director of Brandywine’s Center for Ethics and Civic Engagement, said, “The programming gave participants and presenters the opportunity to listen, learn and reflect on the historical and current significance of mass incarceration on individuals, communities and our society as a whole. I believe we created safe spaces for open and difficult conversations around the very complex issues of race and mass incarceration.

“We heard directly from student and alumni presenters about their experiences as students of color, their vision of racial justice, and their ongoing work to be anti-racist,” Yee added. “Another key feature of the programming was how our presenters helped place our contemporary issues related to mass incarceration and racism in historical context.”

Events included:

— An opening session with Penn State Abington Assistant Teaching Professor of Criminal Justice Patricia Collins discussing key terms and concepts, along with a game of Kahoot! to reinforce what attendees learned.

— A presentation on the history of policing and mass incarceration in the United States by Penn State Brandywine Associate Professor of History and American Studies Julie Gallagher.

— A viewing of the documentary “The Mayor of Graterford,” based on life without parole sentencing in Pennsylvania through the experiences of current and former inmates, followed by a panel discussion featuring Penn State Abington Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice Kurt Fowler, Delaware County Council member Kevin Madden, and Delco Coalition for Prison Reform leadership team member Tonita Austin.

— Videos and discussion with current Brandywine and Abington students reflecting on what it means to be anti-racist and what racial justice means to them.

— A panel with Penn State alumni and current students discussing their experiences as students of color. Alumni included Barry Reddish; Darryl Trent; and Natalie Burrell Wells, founding members of the Black Student League at Penn State Delaware County — Brandywine’s previous name — in the late 1960s.

— A streamed spoken-word performance inspired by mass incarceration and racial justice from Ashlee Haze, an Atlanta-based poet who recently appeared on NPR’s "Tiny Desk" series.

— An exchange of ideas and experiences on race and incarceration in the United States using a model developed by dialogue experts to facilitate connection between participants.

— A panel with Robert C. White Jr., an at-large District of Columbia council member, discussing restoring voting rights for individuals who were formerly incarcerated.

— A viewing of the PBS documentary “Driving While Black: Race, Space & Mobility in America,” discussing how the automobile has brought both freedom and danger.

“The social justice fair has brought light and education to highlight the inadequacies in our society,” said Tracy Reed, assistant director of student engagement and leadership at Penn State Abington. “Spending time in discussion and encouraging action is what we wanted this week to provide, and it was a blessing to work with colleagues at Brandywine and World Campus who care deeply about providing spaces for our communities to do the work.”

More information about the social justice fair, including videos of several of the events, is available here.