New 360° Course Cluster Examines “Women in Walled Communities: Silence, Voice, Vision”

Posted March 15th, 2012 at 2:48 pm.

Women in Walled Communities: Silence, Voice, Vision, one of three 360° course clusters being offered for Fall 2012, examines the constraints and agency of individual actors in social spaces, with a particular focus on the institutional settings of colleges and prisons and the “critical spaces” that can open up within them.

“What can we learn from the juxtaposition of colleges and prisons as institutions that pose drastically different (and yet perhaps also interestingly parallel) kinds of challenges to human beings who are in what looks like contrasting (and yet may also be linked) phases of their lives? We see the frames of voice, silence and vision as offering us content and methods to delve into questions of human agency in a wide range of social circumstances,” wrote the instructors in their proposal to have the 360° approved.

“360°: Women in Walled Communities” includes three courses. Two of these, “The Rhetorics of Silence,” in the English Department, and “Learning in Institutional Spaces,” in the Education Program, will take place on Bryn Mawr’s campus. The third course, “Acting in Prison: Vision as Resource for Change,” offered as a General Studies course, will include on-campus meetings as well as a field-based component—relevant to the entire 360º—in a women’s correctional facility.

Acting in Prison will be taught by Barb Toews, a Ph.D. candidate in Bryn Mawr’s Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research. Toews, whose dissertation research is on daily life in a women’s jail, has worked inside correctional institutions for 12 years. Collaborating closely with prison administrators and incarcerated individuals, she has worked to develop and facilitate programs related to victim awareness and taking responsibility for one’s crime. Toews has also taught college courses on restorative justice through Haverford College, using the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Model.

All the instructors have completed the instructor-training program offered by the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, in which they learned how to teach semester-long academic classes where college students and incarcerated men and women study as peers in a seminar held inside a correctional institution.

“Our desire to design and enact this concept arose from our shared interests in Buddhist, Quaker, and Mennonite practices and our related interests in prison education,” write the instructors. “Every human being—whether they reside behind bars or on the outside—has innate worth, a story to tell, experiences to learn from, and is an important and contributing member of the human community. In the sharing of their perspectives, the Bryn Mawr students and incarcerated student have a chance to reassess stereotypes and myths while re-examining the meaning of crime and incarceration.”

An informational tea will be held Tuesday, March 20, 5-6 p.m. in The Dorothy Vernon Room for student interested in taking part in “360°: Women in Walled Communities.” Registration for 360°s take place during preregistration (April 2-13). For more information, visit the “360°: Women in Walled Communities” homepage.

360°: Women in Walled Communities Course Descriptions

English B228: Silence: The Rhetorics of Class, Gender, Culture and Religion
Tuesday and Thursday 2:25 PM- 3:45 PM
Anne Dalke (
“Like the zero in mathematics, silence is an absence with a function, and a rhetorical one @ that” (Cheryl Glenn, Unpoken: A Rhetoric of Silence, 2004). This English course will consider silence as a rhetorical art and political act, an imaginative space and expressive power that can serve many functions, including that of opening new possibilities among us. We will share our own experiences of silence, re-thinking them through the lenses of how it is explained in philosophy, enacted in classrooms, and performed by various genders, cultures and religions.

Education B290: Learning in Institutional Spaces
Tuesday and Thursday 12:45 PM-2:15 PM
Jody Cohen (
This course considers how two “walled communities,” the institutions of schools and prisons, operate as sites of learning. Beginning with an examination of the origins of educational and penitential institutions, we examine how these institutions both constrain and propel learning, and how human beings challenge and change their surrounds.

General Studies B223: Acting in Prison: Vision as Resource for Change
Friday 1:00 PM-4:00 PM
Barb Toews (
This course uses the theme of vision to explore the context and consequences of mass incarceration, daily experiences inside correctional institutions and social movements inspired by incarcerated individuals. Students will explore and apply course materials in campus-based classes and in classes with incarcerated women inside a correctional facility.
(note: Available for major credit in Cities and Sociology)

360° is a new interdisciplinary experience that engages several aspects of a topic or theme, giving students an opportunity to investigate thoroughly and thoughtfully a multitude of perspectives. A cohort of students takes a cluster of classes over the course of a semester, focusing on the history, economic concerns, cultural intersections and political impact of an era, decision, event, policy, or important scientific innovation. 360° participants hone their arguments and insights through writing and research, develop strategies for teamwork that push the limits of their talents and creativity, and work with professors and scholars to promote big-picture thinking.

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