At the May 2013 Faculty Council meeting, Assistant Professor of Sociology Michelle Ronda was awarded the C-TIE Innovative Teaching Award for her work on a combined class taught at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility during Spring 2013.
Over the past fifteen years, Marymount Manhattan has been offering classes and degrees to the inmates of Bedford Hills Correctional Facility. Under the direction of Ronda, students from Marymount Manhattan’s main campus at 71st Street marked another milestone for the program – its first “combined classroom,” in which students from the main campus studied together with the women at Bedford Hills.
In keeping with the College’s commitment to giving back to the community, the Bedford Hills College Program offers many of the same classes as those offered at Marymount Manhattan’s main campus. Over 150 inmates have earned degrees, and over 1,200 have earned college credits since the program’s inception. In 2004, the program became a Marymount Manhattan extension campus, making all the enrolled prisoners officially members of the student body.
Professor Ronda’s students at both campuses are doing the same work – but for the first time, they had the chance to do that work together.
For the pilot version of the combined class, Professor Ronda taught “Theories of Justice,” an upper division course from Marymount Manhattan’s new Justice Studies minor. The course, which explores the history, theory and applications of a variety of models of justice, met once a week at the women’s prison.
Mixing the students from both campuses together was eye-opening for both groups. Students from the prison benefitted from welcome outside contact with new peers and the encouragement that comes from confirming that they are indeed taking the same classes offered at the main campus.
“They know each other very well, but their peer experience is limited,” says Professor Ronda.
Meanwhile, the main campus’s students gained the eye-opening perspective on social science offered by the prisoners’ experience with the justice system, as well as perhaps some motivation – students in prisons are often among academia’s hardest-working scholars.
Students from the College’s campus at 71st Street have already been involved in the BHCP through informal reading groups, as scholarly panelists and audience members at the BHCP’s biennial Crossing Borders academic conference and in raising awareness about the program on the Manhattan campus, but this combined class marked the first time that students from the two campuses simply learned alongside each other.
The course was featured in USA Today.