“Vassar College’s program was exciting, innovative and challenging, but most of all it showed the women of Taconic that they were capable of anything they put their hearts and minds to,” explained Superintendent Kaplan. “That’s something many of them may never have experienced without the help and guidance of Molly and Eileen.”
The course is an experimental pilot program organized under the auspices of Vassar College, the New York State Department of Correctional Services (DOCS), and the Taconic Correctional Facility (TCF). It marks the first time that the DOCS in New York State has permitted a mixed classroom of traditional college students with prison inmates as part of a curriculum for college credit. No state funds are used for the program at Taconic; federal funds are used for Vassar students who meet grant eligibility requirements.
“Nothing could have meant more to us,” said Shanley of the award. "We are committed to the program, and profoundly value our ties with Taconic Correctional Facility. I know that Eileen feels as I do that we get far more than we give. It is one of the most rewarding teaching experiences I have ever had. The women are wonderful—smart, willing to speak their minds, and dedicated to making the classroom community work. The Vassar students regard it as one of the most stimulating classes they take, and they respond to their Taconic classmates' commitment by working very hard themselves. It makes for a great class!”
New York State Department of Correctional Services Commissioner Brian Fischer said the course provided significant benefits to the participating offenders as well.
“Education and positive social interaction are both critical to offenders’ ability to readjust successfully to the community after prison – and to cope during incarceration,” Commissioner Fischer said. “This program brought the best of both worlds to the participating offenders at Taconic Correctional Facility. It’s clear that those offenders, as well as the participating Vassar students, learned a great deal not only academically but also about understanding and accepting others’ points of view.”
The two professors along with 10 Vassar students, traveled from Poughkeepsie to the medium security women’s prison in Bedford Hills, Westchester County, once a week during the spring 2009 semester to join with 12 inmates for the two-and-a-half hour class to learn about sociology – and life. The success of the course led Shanley and Leonard to teach the course again in fall 2009, this time with 10 Vassar students and 13 Taconic inmates enrolled. The course, once again, will be offered during the fall 2010 semester. Vassar students have shown high interest in the course: for every 10 students accepted to enroll, 20 must be turned away.
The idea for the course began when Shanley and Leonard investigated existing educational programs in correctional facilities in New York State after they had taken the training program for Temple University’s “Inside-Out” program in Philadelphia. Temple’s program trains faculty to offer college courses, enrolling students from both inside and outside prison.
Vassar saw Shanley’s and Leonard’s course as a way to fulfill its commitment to equal educational opportunity and to put into practice the proven use of education to reduce recidivism. Taconic Correctional Facility, which already offered classes for college credit, seemed to be a good fit for this new program. Shanley and Leonard’s determination, coupled with the support of Vassar, the DOCS, and the TCF, made the program a reality. Vassar waived tuition for the Taconic students and granted credit to all students who completed the course successfully.
Shanley and Leonard hope to see the expansion of such efforts in New York State and at Vassar in the future. Vassar shares their enthusiasm and sees the course as a way to fulfill its commitment to equal educational opportunity and to put into practice the proven use of education to reduce recidivism.
About the Course at Taconic Correctional Facility:“Gender, Social Problems and Social Change in the Contemporary United States” takes an interdisciplinary approach to analyzing social policy, allowing students to investigate social issues and movements spanning criminal justice, education, race, gender, women’s rights, gay rights, and access to health care, and generating lively classroom discussion. Students are required to give oral presentations and to write weekly response papers, as well as participate in large and small group discussions, techniques that proved to be highly effective in engaging students and fostering interaction.
About the Professors:Mary Lyndon (Molly) Shanley is Professor of Political Science on the Margaret Stiles Halleck Chair and director of the Learning, Teaching and Research Center at Vassar College. She received her Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1972. She is the author of Feminism, Marriage and the Law in Victorian England (Princeton, 1989); Making Babies, Making Families: What Matters Most in an Age of Reproductive Technologies (Beacon, 2001); and Just Marriage, ed. Deborah Chasman and Joshua Cohen (Oxford University Press, 2004). She is editor, with Carole Pateman, of Feminist Interpretations and Political Theory (Penn State University Press, 1990); with Uma Narayan, of Reconstructing Political Theory: Feminist Essays (Penn State University Press, 1997); and with Iris Marion Young and Daniel I. O’Neill, of Illusion of Equality: Engaging with Carole Pateman (Penn State University Press, 2009). Her articles and reviews have appeared in a wide range of scholarly journals. Her current research concerns feminist perspectives on social justice issues in family formation, and bioethics and human reproduction.
Eileen Leonard is professor of Sociology at Vassar College and a former director of the American Culture, Urban Studies, and Women’s Studies programs at Vassar. She received her Ph.D. from Fordham University in 1975. She is the author of Women, Technology, and the Myth of Progress (Prentice Hall, 2002); In Search of Community: Essays in Memory of Werner Stark, co-edited with Hermann Strasser and Kenneth Westhues (Fordham, 1992); and Women, Crime and Society: A Critique of Theoretical Criminology (Longman, 1982); as well as a number of articles in scholarly journals. She has recently presented on “Crimes of the Rich and Poor: The Value of a Comparative Perspective,” and “Social Dynamics of IT Careers.”
Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.