Sarah Ferrer, a student in my current Inside-Out class, had a guest editorial published in The Oregonian newspaper this week. Writing a letter to an editor or to a state representative is an assignment in the class, submitting it is not. Sarah went above and beyond my expectations when she wrote not just a letter, but an editorial, and had it accepted by Oregon’s largest newspaper. She begins by writing:
I am not a criminologist. I am a biochemistry and biophysics honors student at Oregon State University. Over the past term, I have participated in a criminology class that has given me the opportunity to explore the impact incarceration has on communities. Here’s the catch: More than half of the students enrolled in the class are serving time at Hillcrest Youth Correctional Facility. I have the unique experience of learning about incarceration from the incarcerated. My goal here is not to give an expert’s opinion (for I am not one), but to share some of the things I have learned and to encourage readers to educate themselves on the implications of mass incarceration.
She then goes on to use information from class materials, particularly Todd Clear’s Imprisoning Communities, to highlight the inequities and inefficiencies in our current system and to push for prison reform.
To this point there are 97 comments following her editorial; it’s the third most active opinion piece over the last 7 days. Many of the comments are very harsh and suggest that Sarah is too young and naive to deserve a voice in the conversation, or they dismiss her as being another “bleeding heart” duped and manipulated by her criminal classmates.
To her credit, Sarah knew full well that she was opening herself to public critique and nastiness when she submitted her editorial. And she has engaged in thoughtful, reasoned debate with the comments, clarifying points and offering additional information and perspective. All in all, I am very proud of her for sparking this important discussion and engaging in public debate over prison reform. Seeing an undergraduate student make this kind of educational effort makes me very hopeful that today’s students will lead the charge toward positive change, more caring communities, and a brighter future for us all.