Over the past few years, Hobart and William Smith Colleges have been involved in a significant, life-changing New York State prison education program that connects the campus community to volunteer opportunities at the Five Points Correctional Facility in Romulus, N.Y.
Originally established as a student-led service program, HWS Education Second Chances provides both students and faculty members the opportunity to serve as volunteer teachers for individuals who are incarcerated at Five Points. During the 2011-2012 academic year, Gideon Porter ’12, Professor Emeritus of Economics Pat McGuire L.H.D. ’12, who at the time was interim provost, and Associate Professor of English Laurence Erussard were instrumental in launching the program. HWS faculty members are designated as teachers, while student volunteers serve as teaching assistants/Writing Colleagues.
“The experience at Five Points has been incredibly enriching to me as teacher because I have been exposed to many perspectives and life experiences that I would not have been exposed to before,” says Associate Professor and Chair of Religious Studies Richard Salter ’86, P’15, who serves as a volunteer teacher. “Some of the inmates have been among the most conscientious and creative thinkers I have had. The energy and enthusiasm I get from teaching there translates directly to new ideas and enthusiasm when I am in the classroom at HWS.”
This past academic year, 55 inmates were involved in the education program at Five Points, with a few who concluded their sixth semester of studies. Some of the classes, which can enroll up to 20 students, include: “Introduction to Drawing,” “Rethinking Jesus,” “History of the English Language,” “European Studies,” several medieval literature courses, calculus and other math courses, as well as writing intensive courses.
Each semester, several professors visit the facility once a week for three-hour classes. Faculty volunteers have included: Erussard, Assistant Professor of English and Comparative Literature Stephen Cope, Visiting Assistant Professor of German Area Studies Ashwin Manthripragada, Visiting Assistant Professor of Spanish and Hispanic Studies Marcela Romero Rivera, Salter, Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science John Vaughn P’08, and Professor of Art and Architecture Phillia Yi.
“Students are very engaged: for them, the class is often the best moment of the week,” says Erussard. “In my courses, the inmates exchange homework, projects or papers with the HWS campus students.”
Several HWS students from the Writing Colleagues program, including Cornelia Smith ’15 and Katherine Drinkwater ’15 and Thomas Mascia ’14, have also volunteered.
“I received a truly incredible look at the prison education system from quite the unique perspective, being the first college-age women allowed to join professors in the classroom,” Smith says.
Since the inception of Education Second Chances at HWS, there have been many collaborations among faculty, students and staff involved with the program. Similar programs have also been set up across New York at other institutions. Support for the HWS Education Second Chances, such as books and supplies, has been made available through the HWS Division of Student Affairs.