University students, who are formerly incarcerated, are changing life and perceptions on their campus by taking over a college classroom to challenge traditional teach- ing methods and holding informative seminars to bring awareness to who they are as students.
Beyond the Stats (BTS), an organization of formerly incarcerated and system impacted students at the University of California Davis introduce a panel discussion and a class course title Education as Freedom: AKA “Amerikkka This is How You Made Me,” last year and continues to grow.
The panel discussion was a chance to engage the public and other UC Davis students regarding the returning citizens social positions, generational influences, and their place in the university and community.
“It’s a way to tell our own stories truthfully and bravely while also highlighting larger social systems, structures and histories that we are products of,” said Daniel Mendoza-Jacobo and Tina Curiel-Allen, founders of BTS, in a joint statement to San Quentin News.
“We don’t want to frame our stories as sob stories or highlight the potentially salacious nature of our backgrounds. We want to highlight inequities, common struggles, experiential knowledge and what we as students bring to academic settings and conversations,” said the founders.
The panel discussed topics such as: their relationship to higher education, their experiences in the classroom and the images or conversations surrounding their backgrounds.
“I wasn’t sure if I truly had a place to speak, or what I was going to say,” said Tiana Williams, a panelist. “I knew that my father’s experience with being incarcerated had affected my views, but I never thought that my voice as a system impacted student mattered as much when talking about the system.
“We are all affected and touched by the system in some way–and being able to share my own family’s experiences and having it validated along with those who were formerly incarcerated meant so much to me,” Williams added.
Williams is a McNair Scholar currently doing re- search on the impacts of the 1960s and 70s prisoners’ rights movements and the prison industrial complex.
Bringing students and professionals together provided an inclusive atmosphere to in- spire conversations around the discussion topics amongst the audience.
“It simultaneously challenged stigmas, imposed identities, and perpetuating narratives in greater society,” said Scharleth Guadamuz, panelist and BTS member. “By doing so, we brought the conversation back to the people. It (wasn’t) only revolutionary, it provided room for healing, too.”
Guadamuz is a Latin scholar, writer and activist. She is also pursuing a double-major in Sociology and History with a minor in Human Rights.
Briana Zweifler, spoke from the panel about her experience with the juvenile and criminal legal systems and how she turned that situation into be- coming a youth advocate.
“It simultaneously challenged stigmas, imposed identities, and perpetuating narratives in greater society”
“It was so empowering to speak about my experience of feeling silenced,” said Zweifler. “It made me feel stronger to know that we are all doing this in our own way but we are doing it together.”
Zweifler graduated from the UC Davis School of Law and is a proud BTS alumna. She is a Legal Fellow work- ing on the California Youth Justice Initiative at the National Center for Youth Law.
Professor Dr. Ofelia Cue- vas moderated the event. She bought her own more than 20 years of work and experience as a prison abo- litionist into the conversa- tions.
After the discussion panel, the formerly incarcerated scholars launched the “Amerikkka This is How You Made Me,” class and curriculum.
The class and readings tackles sexism, racism and controversial figures such as: Malcolm X, Assata Shakur and Huey P. New- ton. The course compares their real life experiences against academia research.
“We built this primarily as a discussion based and consciousness raising seminar so that we can learn from and with each other,” said Curiel-Allen. “We will explore these works together to see what knowledge can be gained when looking directly at one’s experience such as: the prison system, the family, academia and the university … as they come up against the writers’ experiences.”
The class also includes writings from Black Feminists, immigration issues and a session on Hip Hop and White Privilege.
“Like prison narratives, hip-hop is a reflection of the streets that made many of us,” said Curiel-Allen. “We had a list of songs to listen to that we discussed in class. We asked others to bring in their own songs on the topic they wanted to discuss.
“It is our hope that through these readings, we can uncover a path towards education that leads to self- determination and freedom by understanding the struggles and fights of our forbearers,” Curiel-Allen concluded.