This blog post was written by our volunteer Julia Arnade-Colwill who will be with the Cambridge Learning Together team for June and July of 2019.
After a wonderful first day and welcome from the Learning Together team, I’d like to introduce myself to the wider Learning Together community. My name is Julia and I’m currently a student at Barnard College of Columbia University in New York. I study comparative literature and philosophy, and wish to combine my social advocacy work against mass incarceration with my academic pursuits. I first came into this advocacy work through two philosophy courses that included units on the study of the criminal justice system in the United States. By asking questions about how prisons structure conceptions of gender, and how political philosophy can be used in concrete activist projects, I’ve sought to understand how (in)justice, stigmatization and normalization, and power mediate our ways of being in the world, and how that being is inextricably linked to systems of incarceration. Part of this exploration is my coursework, but other integral experiences include my contribution to developing a new club at Barnard, Students Towards Ending Prison Systems (STEPS), which is focused on building a community of student activists in partnership with organizations in the city, and an internship last summer with the Osborne Association in New York City advocating in court in favour of alternatives to incarceration.
With my passions for social justice, education, and by that token education that empowers, my interest in Learning Together is perhaps straightforward— as a program aimed at transformational education by transforming the prison space into a classroom space, it draws together the academic and criminal justice spheres in a way that harmonizes with my experiences and interests. And yet, when met with the good-natured question, “What are you doing here?” from those I’ve chatted with in Cambridge curious to know what an American student is doing volunteering at a university program in England, I’ve found it somewhat difficult to form an intelligible response and make myself accountable. This is not to express a sense of unbelonging—Learning Together has already shown itself to be an incredibility warm, open, and supportive community—but rather to convey a sense of unconveyability. A paradoxical aim to be sure. Perhaps the best course of navigation is to embrace that paradox; surely, one of my largest reasons for being here is to formulate an international perspective on incarceration, and I predict that my United States perspective will both reveal and cloud phenomena that must be contextualized to England. Most of all, I am excited for the time ahead. While with Learning Together, I will be able to blend research with direct experience, participating as a student in the Malcolm X reading group at HMP Whitemoor and attending various seminars, conducting qualitative data analysis based on the experience of former students, and joining community events from monthly dinners to the annual Learning Together conference in London. I look forward to all of this and more, and to working through those wonderfully tangled strands of paradox that illuminate as they obscure.