By Bonaru Richardson, Contributing Writer
On a traditional college campus, when a faculty member leaves, it may or may not be a big deal. But in a tight-net community like San Quentin’s Mount Tamalpais College (MTC), when someone is absent, it’s obvious.
Former MTC staff member Priya Kandaswamy has moved on to help build her community as an associate professor of Women’s Studies at a state university.
“I feel really grateful to have gotten to meet so many amazing students at MTC and that the things I learned from students about the California prison system and about prison higher education are things that I am sure will shape my future research and teaching,” Kandaswamy said.
Kandaswamy hopes to continue to work with incarcerated and formerly incarcerated students in California.
A profound, heart-felt loss is rippling through our thriving community, which she helped create. This sentiment is especially true for those students who came back to school periodically during the COVID-19 lockdowns only to find some of their teachers, tutors, or classmates had moved on.
For MTC staff members, losing a good co-worker can be just as heartbreaking. Corey McNeil is a former student and now an Alumni Affairs Associate at MTC.
“Seeing my colleagues leave Mount Tamalpais College was bittersweet,” said McNeil. “Sad to see them go because they were fantastic to work with and excellent to learn from.”
McNeil had to say goodbye to several staff members who left within a brief period. Kandaswamy, Kevin Milyavskiy, Anila Yadavalli and Hannah Evans are all noticeably absent now.
“I’m excited for them and the lives they will positively impact, as they have done with Mount Tamalpais students,” said McNeil. “I’m also glad to know that they will still be working in academia, which leaves hope that we may be able to collaborate again in some way.”
Yadavalli is now a Lecturer with the Centre for Education in Mathematics and Computing at the University of Waterloo. In her faculty role she will spend half of her time teaching undergraduate math classes and half of her time running outreach programs for youth.
Prior to joining MTC, Yadavalli was involved in programs aimed at getting youth interested in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). She is excited to be working with kids again.
Yadavalli said she deeply misses the San Quentin community, whether waving to students in the yard or hearing students get excited about classes, such as astronomy and math circles, or even hearing students complain about their math classes.
Most MTC students, alumni, faculty and staff would argue that the college has single-handedly transformed the prison culture at San Quentin and built a community within the walls.
It’s noticeable that topics like abandonment are openly discussed amongst students as a way to deepen their understanding about how community ties, or lack thereof, impact them personally.
Nevertheless, MTC students also find comfort in knowing these amazing people are moving on to help others build better communities as well. When special people decide to move forward in their life journey, greatness is destined to follow their lead.
These amazing teachers are the definition of greatness. Whether they choose to be or not, they become models that many are inspired to follow.
Kandaswamy said she hopes to continue, in her new role, to connect her work to higher education in prisons.