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Harvard Radcliffe Institute has shifted to primarily virtual operations and continues to monitor the coronavirus pandemic. See Coronavirus (COVID-19) Information and Updates.

Law, Education, and Justice Working Groups

Harvard undergraduate and graduate students are invited to apply to join Law, Education, and Justice (LEJ) Student Working Groups. These noncredit groups give students the opportunity to engage deeply and build community around important issues within LEJ.

During the 2020­–2021 academic year, the groups are Gender, Race, and Punishment and From Plantations to Prisons: A Spotlight on Harvard. Both groups are led by Kaia Stern, practitioner in residence at the Radcliffe Institute, cofounder and director of the Prison Studies Project at Harvard, and lecturer on education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and by Rebecca Thompson ’22.

Meeting Time: 9–10:30 AM ET, Tuesdays, January 26–May 4, 2021
Location: Virtual Zoom meetings  

Note: This working group is not for academic credit.

As an extension of the fall working group, Say Her Name, the spring working group will focus on gendered and racialized injustice/punishment in the United States. Specifically, this group will draw from community voices, academic texts, media, and narrative sources to give particular attention to factors long associated with gender, race, and punishment, such as madness, sexuality, sin, poverty, and citizenship. Our hope is to have select Harvard students engage in virtual discussions with students from the I-Can Academy, located inside Suffolk County’s Nashua Street Jail. However, given the pandemic, the incarcerated students do not currently have access to educational programming. We are hopeful that they will be able to join the working group as soon as public health allows.

Questions for consideration include: What do we mean by gender and race? How is punishment gendered and racialized? In what ways do we punish ourselves, each other, and the so-called criminal? How does centering the ways in which Black women live and love, survive, and struggle for freedom point toward the liberation of all people? The working group will spend its time doing group work and in-session writing as well as in dialogue with guest presenters and one another, and most sessions will be led by students.

In addition to asking rigorous questions about the relationship between gender, race, and punishment, a primary goal for the working group members is to discern their own epistemologies. 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. As part of the final project for the working group, students will contribute to a collaborative timeline on the topic of gender, race, and punishment, spanning from Tituba to Breonna Taylor. Final projects can be creative, academic, and/or advocacy-oriented.

Meeting Time: 10:30–11:45 AM ET, Thursdays, January 28–April 22, 2021
Location: Virtual Zoom meetings  

Note: This working group is not for academic credit.

From Plantations to Prisons: A Spotlight on Harvard University is the second part in a year-long working group that studies the history of punishment in the United States. The fall working group established a framework for punishment that reveals a continuum between chattel slavery and mass criminalization (which includes mass imprisonment and mass deportation). It focused on the religio-historical roots of the US penal industry, suggesting a continuum of racialized violence that calls into question our basic notions of justice, and considered factors long associated with crime and punishment such as sin, race, and citizenship. The spring working group will spotlight Harvard University’s relationship to the contemporary punishment system with a special focus on the university’s historical ties to slavery.

Questions for consideration include: What is Harvard’s role in the legacy of slavery? Whose voices are missing from Harvard’s historical archives and records? What are meaningful ways in which the university can reckon with its past and redress legacies of slavery? The working group will spend its time doing group work and in-session writing as well as in dialogue with guest presenters and one another, and most sessions will be led by students.

In addition to asking rigorous questions about what justice means, the primary goals for the working group members are to develop a critical understanding of the historical context of racialized punishment in the United States and to discern their own epistemologies. Students are expected to attend all meetings and to participate fully. Participation consists of careful review of assigned material in preparation for the sessions, discussion, group work, and student presentations. As part of the final project for the working group, students will contribute to a collaborative timeline that explores Harvard’s place in the continuum between slavery and mass criminalization. Final projects can be creative, academic, and/or advocacy oriented.

The deadline for spring 2021 has passed.

Contact Kristen Kravet or Rebecca Thompson

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:

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