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$1 Million Grant Awarded from Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for New Justice-in-Education Initiative

Public Humanities, Justice-in-Education

May 12, 2015


Nicholas Obourn, Communications Manager, Heyman Center for the Humanities:
212-854-4870, [email protected]
Christina Dawkins, Program Manager, Heyman Center Public Humanities Initiative:
212-854-5273, [email protected]

Columbia University’s Center for Justice and Heyman Center for the Humanities
Receive $1 Million Grant from Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for
New Justice-in-Education Initiative

New York, NY (May 7, 2015) – The Center for Justice and the Heyman Center for the Humanities at Columbia University, in collaboration with the Media and Idea Lab at the Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race, were recently awarded a grant for $1 million from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. These funds will support the “Justice-in-Education Initiative” over the next three years, a collaborative project to provide education to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated persons and to integrate the study of justice more fully into the Columbia University curriculum.

“This enormously generous grant from the Mellon Foundation will allow us to expand our efforts to offer college courses in local prisons and to increase the opportunities for formerly incarcerated students to continue their education at Columbia,” said Eileen Gillooly, Executive Director of the Heyman Center for the Humanities. “It will also enable us to develop new interdisciplinary courses in justice studies, as well as to draw critical attention to those issues of justice that are everywhere in Columbia’s undergraduate Core Curriculum, though often pedagogically overlooked.”

“The Center for Justice at Columbia seeks to shift the mentality of punishment in the criminal justice system to one of healing and learning,” said Geraldine Downey, Director of the Center for Justice. “The grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for the Justice-in-Education Initiative is a boon to our teaching efforts in prisons and jails and allows us to develop stronger support networks for people who are or have been incarcerated. The grant also increases the opportunities for Columbia students and faculty to work with community members to understand and help address inequities that underlie the growth of incarceration and the harmful consequences of this growth.”

The United States incarcerates more people than any other nation in the world, and Columbia University sits at the heart of our current mass incarceration crisis. According to the Justice Atlas of Sentencing and Corrections, more than 50% of all incarcerated Manhattanites call Harlem home. Yet statistical evidence overwhelmingly confirms that a college education reduces recidivism, increases employment opportunities, and strengthens communities. The Justice-in-Education Initiative seeks to provide greater educational opportunities to those who are or have been incarcerated, as well as to enrich the academic life of faculty and students wishing to engage in issues of contemporary justice.

The Justice-in-Education Initiative has four key aims:

  • To offer courses, taught by Columbia instructors, in local prisons and to provide those who have come home from prison with the opportunity to continue their education at Columbia and its partner institutions.
  • To provide opportunities for jailed youth to reengage with education.
  • To develop strong curricular support for the effective engagement of Columbia faculty and students in prison and jail education.
  • To change public and political thinking about the importance of access to higher education for the incarcerated and the formerly incarcerated.

Efforts are already underway to reach the aims set forth by the Justice-in-Education Initiative. Columbia instructors are currently teaching courses in local prisons, such as Professor Christia Mercer, whose op-ed about teaching in Taconic Correctional Facility was published in the Washington Post last month. This summer, the Heyman Center Public Humanities Initiative will enroll a select group of formerly incarcerated persons in a skills-intensive humanities course offered through the Department of English and Comparative Literature. The Heyman Center is also supporting the development of new course offerings that engage contemporary issues of justice.

In the coming months, the Justice-in-Education Initiative will bring together Core Curriculum instructors and students to develop an online archive of pedagogical materials that support discussion of contemporary justice issues in the classroom. Columbia faculty and students will also work with community organizations to change the narrative about incarcerated people so as to emphasize their potential to grow and develop. Partnering with the Media and Idea Lab, the Justice-in-Education Initiative seeks to give voice to stories that emphasize the role of education in human development, whether behind bars or in the successful reentry of those coming home from prison.

“We believe that sharing a fuller range of stories and experiences can change the prevailing narrative surrounding people who have been incarcerated from one that says they present an enduring risk to society to one that recognizes each person’s potential to learn throughout their lives and contribute to their communities” said Frances Negrón-Muntaner, Director of the Media and Idea Lab.

With the launch of the Justice-in-Education Initiative, the Center for Justice and Heyman Center for the Humanities, together with the Media and Idea Lab, are striving to not only make higher education available to a population that has been effectively excluded from it, but also contribute to the growing movement to end mass incarceration.


About the Center for Justice at Columbia University
The Center for Justice at Columbia University is committed to reducing the nation’s reliance on incarceration and advancing alternative approaches to safety and justice through education, research and policy. Its mission is to help transform a criminal justice system from one that is driven by punishment and retribution to one that is centered on prevention and healing. The Initiative is interdisciplinary and built around community collaboration. It works in partnership with schools, departments, centers and institutes across Columbia, other universities, government agencies, community organizations, advocates and those directly affected by the criminal justice system. For more information about the Center for Justice, please visit their website.

About the Heyman Center for the Humanities at Columbia University
The Heyman Center for the Humanities provides the intellectual and physical space for interdisciplinary discussions among members of the Columbia community and the New York City public. It brings together faculty and students from across the university to share thinking, debate ideas, and collectively consider methodological, conceptual, and ethical issues of common interest and concern. In 2014, the Heyman Center for the Humanities established a Public Humanities Initiative. Its mission is to foster and enhance community engagement with the humanities at Columbia and university engagement with Columbia’s diverse neighboring communities. Often collaborating with other Columbia centers and institutes, with local educational and cultural institutions, and with community organizations, it sponsors a wide range of programming, service, and research activities intended to interest and include audiences beyond the university. For more information about the Heyman Center Public Humanities Initiative, please visit their website.

About the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
Founded in 1969, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation endeavors to strengthen, promote, and, where necessary, defend the contributions of the humanities and the arts to human flourishing and to the well-being of diverse and democratic societies by supporting exemplary institutions of higher education and culture as they renew and provide access to an invaluable heritage of ambitious, path-breaking work.