DePaul University’s Steans Center for Community-Based Service Learning places upwards of 4,000 students in the community each year to learn as they serve.
As associate director, one of the programs I administer is the Inside-Out Program at Cook County Jail (part of the national Inside-Out Program based at Temple University). DePaul students learn side-by-side detainees inside the facility in courses such as “Masculinity and the Law,” “Voting Rights and Disenfranchisement,” and “Narrative Arts for Social Change.”
Students inside the jail receive academic credit from DePaul for their work, and students from outside learn critical life lessons along with the academics.
On March 7, just one class shy of the coveted course “graduation” ceremony day, the news of Covid hit, and Cook County went on lockdown with no technology available to complete the three courses in session. All inside and outside students received their certificates and their grades eventually, but our students—and faculty—were heartbroken at the disrupted connection.
Since all educational programming was shut down, we asked how we might assist in the immediate moment. Our partnering curriculum director at the jail told us simply, “we need soap.”
So we asked for donations. Here’s what happened next:
- The university purchased thousands of bars of travel-sized soap in collaboration with the Illinois Coalition for Higher Education in Prison. The DePaul Students Against Incarceration group continues to crowd-source a soap and hand sanitizer campaign.
- To support the hygiene effort, Physics 100 students will be using 3D printers this fall to produce plastic shields, which may be used as PPE at the Cook County Jail.
- We are revising our curriculum to hold “correspondence” classes this fall; we hope to be “inside” in the winter; and we plan to be there physically in the spring.
- As a result of the soap campaign, I was elected to the Steering Committee of the Illinois Coalition for Higher Education in Prison. In terms of the time commitment of two hours of Zoom meetings per week, one might say this started with soap, but landed me in hot water!
In all seriousness, Beloit got me to this place; soap is the surface issue, although hygiene is critical and the need in the jail has been dire. But this work for me, our students, and our faculty is about advocating for social justice.
Read more stories about alumni working “In the Trenches in the Time of Covid”.