Bard Prison Initiative 13th Commencement Held at Taconic Correctional Facility
ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y.—The Bard Prison Initiative (BPI) celebrated its 13th commencement at Taconic Correctional Facility, a medium-security prison for women in Bedford Hills, New York, on Tuesday, June 2. The commencement, the first held at Taconic, was a particularly important accomplishment for the graduates given the uncertainty they faced less than three years ago. At the time, BPI’s program for incarcerated women, then located at Bayview Correctional Facility in New York City, was in jeopardy following the prison’s evacuation during Hurricane Sandy and its subsequent closure. BPI, which is committed to providing access to higher education for both incarcerated women and men, was able to turn this crisis into an opportunity to launch an expanded, thriving program for women at Taconic.
Jennel Nesbitt ’15 was a second-year student at Bayview when Hurricane Sandy struck. In an address to her fellow graduates, she recalled, “No one was sure if we would ever go back to college. All the Bard students were depressed and disappointed . . . Then one morning I saw a memo. It said Bard was having a meeting for all its students . . . Despite the storm, the transfers, and the chaos, we finished the semester.” Nesbitt, who was released from prison in February and is planning to continue her studies in the fall, reflected on how BPI had enabled her to change the meaning of her incarceration.
Robert Fullilove, associate dean of community and minority affairs and professor of sociomedical sciences at the Columbia University Medical Center, delivered the commencement address. He described teaching at a Mississippi Freedom School during the Freedom Summer of 1964. According to Fullilove, teaching for BPI has reawakened the sense of hope and inspiration he experienced while working in the Civil Rights Movement more than 40 years ago.
BPI offers a Bard College education inside three maximum-security prisons—Coxsackie, Eastern New York, and Green Haven; and three medium-security prisons—Fishkill, Taconic, and Woodbourne. In partnership with the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, BPI’s academic presence within the prison system has increased dramatically in breadth, depth, and scale: the College has awarded almost 350 degrees to students enrolled through the Initiative. Since 2001, the Bard Prison Initiative has provided college opportunity inside the prisons of New York State. Begun as a pilot program with 15 students, BPI now enrolls close to 300 incarcerated New Yorkers in a robust liberal arts curriculum.
Bard College is also home to the Consortium for the Liberal Arts in Prison, which assists other colleges and universities as they establish similar projects in states across the country. More than 800 incarcerated students are enrolled in college through BPI or its partner institutions. The Consortium currently collaborates with colleges in Connecticut, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, and Washington that are returning rigorous college opportunity to the prison systems of their states.
The pursuit of a college education dramatically reduces the rates at which students return to prison after release and spreads the benefits of academic achievement in many of the country’s most isolated communities. It affects all of those whose fates intersect in our prison system, including teachers, volunteers, administrators, and incarcerated students, along with their children and extended families. The work can be transformative, and offers the prospect of change that will reverberate through future generations.
The Bard Prison Initiative challenges and expands our sense of community, and its success is a tribute to an extraordinary collaboration among the College, the government of the State of New York, and our students. For more information, visit: http://bpi.bard.edu/.
ABOUT BARD COLLEGE
Founded in 1860, Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, is an independent, nonsectarian, residential, coeducational college offering a four-year B.A. program in the liberal arts and sciences and a five-year B.A./B.S. degree in economics and finance. The Bard College Conservatory of Music offers a five-year program in which students pursue a dual degree—a B.Music and a B.A. in a field other than music—and offers an M.Music in vocal arts and in conducting. Bard also bestows an M.Music degree at Longy School of Music of Bard College in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Bard and its affiliated institutions also grant the following degrees: A.A. at Bard High School Early College, a public school with campuses in New York City, Cleveland, and Newark, New Jersey; A.A. and B.A. at Bard College at Simon’s Rock: The Early College, in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, and through the Bard Prison Initiative at six correctional institutions in New York State; M.A. in curatorial studies, M.S. in economic theory and policy, and M.S. in environmental policy and in climate science and policy at the Annandale campus; M.F.A. and M.A.T. at multiple campuses; M.B.A. in sustainability in New York City; and M.A., M.Phil., and Ph.D. in the decorative arts, design history, and material culture at the Bard Graduate Center in Manhattan. Internationally, Bard confers dual B.A. degrees at the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences, St. Petersburg State University, Russia (Smolny College); American University of Central Asia in Kyrgyzstan; and Bard College Berlin: A Liberal Arts University; as well as dual B.A. and M.A.T. degrees at Al-Quds University in the West Bank.
Bard offers nearly 50 academic programs in four divisions. Total enrollment for Bard College and its affiliates is approximately 5,000 students. The undergraduate College has an enrollment of more than 1,900 and a student-to-faculty ratio of 10:1. For more information about Bard College, visit www.bard.edu.
Bard Press Contact:Mark Primoff
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