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Danny, an “inside” student who participated in the Inside-Out Program with Barrett Honors College and the Maricopa Reentry Center said his life and the lives of his classmates have changed for the better because of the program.
“We have had discussions about toxic masculinity. Correcting our thinking is crucial to our sobriety and recovery. Through gut level conversations, we have opened our eyes. You are the catalyst for a new way of thinking for us,” Danny said to “outside” students from the honors college during a recent ceremony to mark the end of the Inside-Out class titled “Men and Feminism.”
Danny was among seven “inside” students from the MRC and eight from Barrett Honors College who took part in the Inside-Out Program during the spring semester.
The MRC, located in north Phoenix, facilitates the re-integration of inmates who have served at least 85 percent of their sentences in Arizona Department of Corrections prisons. Anyone who is eligible for parole, no matter the crime -except for sex offenders- can receive services at the MRC.
MRC students, as well as those from Barrett, had to go through an application and interview process in order to participate in the class.
Honors Faculty Fellow Rachel Fedock facilitated the class, which is based on the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program (IO) design.
IO is an international educational program founded in 1997 by Lori Pompa at Temple University. The aim of the program is to bring traditional college students and incarcerated people together in semester-long courses to explore and learn about crime and justice issues. The program gives students from inside and outside prison walls the opportunity to engage in conversations about crime, justice, freedom, inequality and other social concerns, address these issues, and foster positive change.
“Cultivating community engagement is an important endeavor for Barrett and this course offers one unique way to achieve this goal. It provides Barrett students the opportunity to experience an innovative classroom experience. Few honors colleges offer IO classes we want to be on the forefront of expanding IO,” Fedock said, adding that the class was made possible through support from Barrett deans Mark Jacobs, Nicola Foote, and Craig Allen and a grant from the Sol and Esther Drescher Endowed Development Fund that paid for her IO facilitator training. Support also came from the Arizona Department of Corrections, especially Patricia Barnhart, MRC deputy warden, who facilitated the implementation of the course.
“This class is important for the purposes of tearing down walls between us. Unfortunately, walls seem to be growing, whether it be walls between political parties, countries, or prison walls. We are often encouraged to look at people on the other side of walls as outsiders, seeing them as different from us, and at worst, dehumanizing them. Inside-Out creates an environment where all students can appreciate each other’s humanity and struggles, while cultivating new perspectives on complex social issues - something I think the world desperately needs right now,” Fedock said.
Core principles of Inside-Out are to avoid "othering" and labeling people, and providing an equitable classroom environment where all voices are heard and valued. Inside-Out also upholds a policy of confidentiality among participants, so personal information and names are not shared outside the parameters of the course, Fedock said. Students are referred to only by their first names.
Barrett students traveled to the reentry center twice a week for eight weeks to meet with their fellow classmates and “discuss the difficulties men face in a world full of toxic masculinity and how feminism is the cure – liberating both men and women from patriarchal oppression,” Fedock said.
Toxic masculinity is a social science term that refers to male gender roles and exaggerated masculine traits like being violent, unemotional or sexually aggressive.
“This Inside-Out Program was truly an amazing experience for us. We were able to gain more understanding about the world and those who are the same and different than we are. We were able to have open conversations and grapple with human experiences. We had conversations that were difficult and at times it got a little heated, but more often than not they were full of love and acceptance. We have grown so much together,” said Star, a Barrett student.
Valentin, an inside student, said the class exposed him to new ideas and ways to respond to life’s difficulties.
“When I saw the sign about this class on the wall, I didn’t even know what feminism was. All my life I’ve felt bottled up. I’m not sure if it was toxic masculinity, but it was difficult. I have grown so much in this class and learned how to cope,” he said.
The class culminated with student-designed community projects focused on educational programs to combat toxic masculinity, rape culture and objectification of women and girls and domestic violence against men, and developing afterschool programs for at-risk youth.
Karen Hellman, division director of the Arizona Department of Corrections Inmate Programs and Reentry, said the Inside-Out class helped inside students see potential in their lives and learn positive ways to resolve conflict.
“It’s amazing what happens when you get a bunch of different voices in a room. You find a lot more in common than not. We all want to be heard. We all want families. We all want love. We all have learned that in different situations the best way to take care of it is to talk it out,” she said.
Fedock said the course benefited students in many ways, including intellectually, socially, and personally.
“They experienced what I think is the most diverse classroom setting possible. The students come from vastly different backgrounds and life experiences, which cultivates space for incredibly insightful, challenging, and engaging discussions as well as deep critical thinking. Not only does the course content challenge their beliefs and assumptions about feminism, gender, and violence, Inside-Out pedagogy facilities social transformation,” she said.
“Students come to realize that we are all human, no matter the labels society places on us, and that we all want the same things: to be heard, acceptance, and meaningful relationships. They recognize themselves as agents of change in their own lives and in the broader community.”
The course will be offered again in the Spring 2020 semester and each semester thereafter, Fedock said. Applications for Spring 2020 will open in October.