Each week, students in the course, "Women and the Penal System" (WMST 332/SOCI 332), travel to the State Correctional Institution at Muncy and sit side-by-side with women on the inside to talk about how gender, race and class come into play in the criminal justice system.
The Bucknell course is part of the international Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, which seeks to "examine social issues through the prism of prison." The rules are strict. Students may call one another only by their first names. The inmates, or "inside students," are discouraged from discussing details of their legal cases, and friendships may not extend beyond the class.
"Our course discussions are often poignant and inspiring," says Associate Professor of Women's and Gender Studies and Anthropology Coralynn Davis, who teaches the class each spring. "Sometimes, the inside students disclose how long they've been in. It raises questions about why we imprison people. Is it about punishment, individual rehabilitation or community restoration, and is it meeting those goals?"
The Inside-Out class destroys stereotypes - for Bucknell students who may have never been to a prison and for the inside students who have preconceived notions about college students. The class also inspires many to change the way they think about the world and to adjust career plans to address the causes and effects of incarceration for women and their communities.
"After taking this class, learning what I did and how applicable it is to my life, I don't think I would be happy with myself if I were not proactive about some of the issues we talked about," says Nadia Sasso '11 (English and sociology).