Welcome to the inaugural OPEEP newsletter! We are the Directors of the Ohio Prison Education Exchange Project, and we’re excited to share news about our project’s growth with you. We plan to send shorter news updates each month or so, but this version of OPEEP’s newsletter introduces our work and staff to you and highlights the big plans we have in store this academic year.
We started OPEEP in 2019 with a Race, Ethnicity, and Social Justice Grant from OSU’s Global Arts and Humanities Discovery Theme (GAHDT). With those funds we were able to provide pedagogical training for almost two dozen OSU faculty to teach OPEEP courses in central Ohio adult prison facilities. The training included 20 participants from five campuses, five colleges, and fifteen unique disciplines. GAHDT’s financial support these past few years also allowed us to free some of our time to administer the project with our partners at the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction and to expand our attention beyond teaching to imagining a more radically inclusive university for those impacted by the criminal justice system. (You can read more about OPEEP in GAHDT’s most recent Year in Review publication.)
Our course offerings for the current academic year have nearly quadrupled from 2021-22! This year, we are offering courses at three prison facilities in Marysville, Lancaster, and Mansfield, representing four of the Ohio State campuses and seven departments – English, Environmental and Natural Resources, Geography, Philosophy, Psychology, Sociology, and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies. We couldn’t be more thrilled about the breadth of collaboration and engagement we are generating across the university. Our courses allow campus students and incarcerated students to learn together in spaces that emphasize collaboration and strive to counter the dehumanizing forces of the prison environment. All students earn credits and grades for their work while learning that the quest for knowledge, connection, and community is at the heart of transformational educational practice. Please reach out if you are a faculty member or lecturer interested in teaching OPEEP classes in the future.
This year we gained support from the Office of the Provost which encourages our expansion across the university and in central Ohio prisons. Two program coordinators joined our staff this summer, Nicole Edgerton and Babette Cieskowski. They are also responsible for much of OPEEP’s daily operations, and you can learn more about them below. We also bid a partial farewell to Story Edison, who served as our Graduate Research Associate for a calendar year. Story’s position was funded by a Professional Development Grant through GAHDT, and as part of her work, she aided Project Peer, a student group founded by the Class of 2024 Eminence Fellows. (We will spotlight the work of Project Peer in a newsletter later this Autumn Semester.) Story is a PhD Candidate in the Department of Sociology, and we are grateful that she will remain with OPEEP as a member of the Advisory Council this year.
We look forward to working with the other new members of our Advisory Council – OPEEP Alumni Muheeb Hijazeen and Ramon Reid and current OSU students Kourtney Newberry and Christina Ray. They join current members Seyan Coco (an Eminence Fellow), OPEEP Alumni Nadir Joyce and Amber Michael, and Drs. Alia Deitsch, Terrance Hinton, Nicole Nieto, Amy Shuster, Winston Thompson, and Shannon Winnubst. You can read about all of our Council members here on our website.
Our priorities for this year are to build and support a strong slate of programming that extends beyond OPEEP classes to engage more students, staff, and faculty. We look forward to growing partnerships with student organizations, academic departments, campus offices, and community partners to provide a full range of educational and engaging abolitionist and Black feminist programming. Reach out to Babette and Nicole if you need our support with your work or for ideas to collaborate. We would especially love to hear from students! No matter what campus you’re on, send us your ideas, invite us to your communities, and get involved with the transformational work of OPEEP.
Drs. Mary Thomas and Tiyi Morris