Law, Education, and Justice Working Groups

Harvard Radcliffe Institute’s Law, Education, and Justice (LEJ) working groups center dialogue and give students the opportunity to engage deeply and build community around important topics within LEJ. 

During the 2022–23 academic year, the working group is Music and Justice. Please see below for more information on this current opportunity, as well as past initiatives. 

Current Working Groups

Music and Justice will bring together select Harvard students with students from the I-Can Academy, located inside Suffolk County’s Nashua Street Jail. The focus of this working group is to create and perform music, both vocal and instrumental. It is open to music lovers, whether or not they play an instrument or consider themselves a musician. We want to include a broad range of perspectives on music and its intersections with social justice. We will consider: What makes music political? What is unique about music for social justice? What role might music play in prison reform or abolition movements? Each week, students will have the opportunity to write songs, including melodies and lyrics. There will be time to rehearse together and perform for each other. A selection of instruments will be provided at every class and our work will culminate in a concert for the wider community. 

Co-facilitators: Devon Gates, Harvard College ’23; Willie Swett '22, a student at New England Conservatory; and Kaia Stern, practitioner in residence at the Harvard Radcliffe Institute, cofounder and director of the Prison Studies Project, and faculty at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. 

Meeting Time: Thursdays, 1–2:30 PM ET, February 9 to May 4, 2023. Please plan to be available from 12:15 to 3:30 PM on Thursdays to allow travel to and from the jail.

Location: Nashua Street Jail (200 Nashua St., Boston MA 02114) 

Enrollment: up to nine 

Past Working Groups

Spring 2022

The War on Drugs, guided by LEJ facilitator Aaron Bray, will bring together select Harvard students with students from the I-Can Academy, located inside Suffolk County’s Nashua Street Jail. This course will empower students with a working knowledge of the laws and policies undergirding the war on drugs. In class, we will explore some of the most notorious drug cases in recent history. 

Far from the typical lecture-based experience, this working group will be conducted more like a series of hands-on workshops designed to have students learn by actively doing as opposed to passively listening. The vision behind this learner-centered pedagogy is to activate dynamic thinkers capable of engaging in the type of real-time critical thinking and problem solving required of legal professionals. Above all, students should expect to have fun while building a practical understanding of how the legal system functions. 

Fall 2021

Religion and Punishment will bring together select Harvard students with students from the I-Can Academy, located inside Suffolk County’s Nashua Street Jail. Our focus will be on the intersections of religion (broadly defined) and law in the United States. Specifically, we will consider how persistent religious and racial ideologies—notions of sin, evil, and otherness; definitions of who God is and what constitutes humanity— are linked to penal policy and shape our relationship to crime and punishment. We will draw from community voices, legal documents, scripture, academic texts, media, and narrative sources. Questions for consideration include: What do we mean by religion and public policy? How do our creation stories shape belief systems? In what ways are crime and punishment gendered and racialized? How does religion inform our understanding of the prison/abolition? 

In addition to asking rigorous questions about the relationships between religion, punishment and penal policy, a primary goal for the working group members is to discern our own ways of knowing. Students are expected to attend all meetings and to participate fully. Participation consists of careful review of assigned material in preparation for sessions, discussion, group work, and student presentations. The working group will spend its time doing collaborative work and in-session writing as well as being in dialogue with guest presenters and one another. All sessions will be discussion-based, and most will be led by students. 

Fall 2021 

Telling Our Stories will bring together students who are incarcerated at the South Bay House of Correction and select Harvard students to develop our voices through letter writing. We will approach letter writing both as a form of self-expression that supports socio-emotional health and as an essential vocational skill that improves our relationships with our loved ones, our co-workers, and the larger world. This writing workshop will develop our abilities to communicate effectively about our experiences and engage meaningfully with the people in our lives.  

The working group will meet for eight weeks and will draw from community voices, popular media, academic publications, and literary texts to understand letter writing as a tool for human connection, truth-telling, and societal change. Students will write, read, and otherwise engage with various forms of letters throughout the workshop, including thank you letters, cover letters, love letters, advocacy letters, and letters to one's past or future self. We plan to work with staff from the Schlesinger Library to delve deeply into their archives, which include the letters of Angela Davis and Miriam Van Waters. Questions for consideration include: Why do we tell our stories? How can letters help us tell our stories? Who is our audience? Is letter writing still relevant in the twenty-first century? How can letters from the past help us understand the present? Can letters hold space for multiple historical truths? How can letters help us create our future together? 

We will spend our time in conversation with each other, working together in small groups, reading and writing in class, and speaking with guest presenters. Students are expected to attend all meetings and to participate fully. All sessions will be discussion based and most will be led by students. 

Information on past opportunities is current as of the year indicated.

How to Apply

Applications for spring 2023 participation in the LEJ Working Group Music and Justice are due by 11:59 PM on Sunday, January 29, 2023. Apply here.

Students will be notified of decisions by February 3, 2023.

Program Details

Please contact Kaia Stern at

A note on trauma: Bearing witness is part of creating transformative and beloved community. Students should be aware that the content that will be covered in this working group is distressing. We encourage all participating students to seek out the facilitation team as well as mental health resources such as: