Dr. Amy Shuster (pronouns: they/them/theirs) is an Academic Program Specialist and Associated Faculty Member in the Department of Philosophy. Dr. Shuster is a member of the OPEEP Advisory Council, having taught courses at the Southeastern Correctional Institution (SCI) in Lancaster as well as co-facilitating SCI's Philosophy for Humans learning community. Learn more about Dr. Shuster's background and involvement with OPEEP below!
What sparked your interest in higher education in prison? Prior to your involvement with OPEEP, had you ever worked with incarcerated populations?
"Shortly after I arrived at Ohio State in 2015, I read a campus news story about Brenda Chaney’s sociology course at ORW and it sparked my interest. I had never worked directly with incarcerated people before though I had a lot of prior interest and experience with conflict resolution and restorative justice practices. I contacted Dr. Chaney to learn more and she put me in touch with Dr. Angela Bryant. I then went to visit People for Change, an Inside-Out think tank at Toledo Correctional and I came away from that experience with a clear sense that this was important work that I could make a substantial contribution to and that I would grow from."
When and where did you teach your first course inside of a prison facility, and what was the experience like for you? What expectations did you have initially, and how did those expectations or perceptions change over time? Any thoughts or advice for students or faculty interested in taking or teaching an OPEEP course in the future?
"I taught my Inside-Out inspired course twice at SCI while a visiting faculty member at a local liberal arts college. One of the reasons why I returned to Ohio State last year was to get connected to OPEEP. I think it’s important that Ohio State offers credit to the inside students; they do all the same academic labor as the outside students. And I’m excited by the prospect of developing my course in a broader university community that is committed to ending carceral systems of punishment and building connections between people currently incarcerated and those who are not. Teaching my course at SCI has been the highlight of my teaching career. My students engage with the course material in deeper and more significant ways than a traditional campus-based class. I wish I could produce the same experience for my students in all of my courses. I think one of my biggest expectations that has been challenged pertains to the degree of interest in philosophy among incarcerated populations. I mean, I had expected incarcerated populations to be similar or even more resistant to philosophy as campus-based students. But I have found that almost the exact opposite is true. And my inside students’ curiosity and passion for philosophy inspires my campus-based students. One of the most significant changes that I’ve made to my course design after completing instructor training was adding more experiential and full-body learning activities into my class periods; my students report deeper learning from these activities and I see it in both their oral and written communication. I definitely recommend those practices to new OPEEP instructors, regardless of the subject matter they will teach. To prospective students I advise: these courses are a lot harder than you can ever anticipate. Try to speak candidly with an OPEEP alum to make sure that you are making the right choices for yourself in the semester that you think you might want to take an OPEEP course."
Can you tell us a bit about the Philosophy for Humans learning community at Southeastern Correctional Institution (SCI)? When did the community form, and how frequently is the group currently meeting? How, in your eyes, does the learning community fit into OPEEP’s broader mission or vision for the future?
"Philosophy for Humans (or P4H) is a learning community composed of people currently incarcerated at Southeastern Correctional Institution and people from Ohio State and the broader Ohio community. Like other learning communities in Ohio State residential spaces, P4H aims to support the interests and development of its members by leveraging the resources available at Ohio State. We came together for the first time in September 2021, and are currently meeting twice a month at SCI. After many months of deliberation among the members of P4H, I’m excited to be able to share a draft of our mission statement: 'building community to support transformative education and resist dehumanization.' And our draft vision statement is: 'liberating humanity, transcending incarceration.' In the short term, P4H supports the recruitment of inside and outside students and faculty for OPEEP courses and their successful completion of those courses. In the medium term, P4H keeps OPEEP grounded in community organizing for systemic change. And in the long term, P4H builds intrapersonal and interpersonal capacity for the abolitionist future that OPEEP is striving for."