Social Justice Activated
When Sydney Banach ’18 browsed college websites as a prospective student, Grinnell College’s Liberal Arts in Prison Program quickly grabbed her attention.
“I remember reading about it on the website and the program contributed to my decision to apply to Grinnell early decision,” says Banach, who jumped at the chance to work in the justice system as an undergraduate.
At Grinnell, social justice is paired with an abundance of enriching and unique opportunities that allow students to explore issues of social justice up close. In the College’s innovative Liberal Arts in Prison program, student volunteers work as coordinators and tutor incarcerated students.
“This experience has definitely cemented my decision to work with juveniles in the future — whether as a lawyer, psychologist, or in another way,” Banach says.
The second-year student spends four hours a week tutoring youth and another five hours a week coordinating the volunteer program at a juvenile justice facility. Tutoring has broadened student volunteers’ definition of scholarship — incarcerated students are eager students whose lives, like their own, can be transformed by the liberal arts experience.
More than 20 student volunteers travel weekly to the juvenile detention facility to tutor incarcerated students in math and reading. The volunteers build rewarding relationships with students.
“The experience made me understand why people go into education,” says Cody Combs ’15, a volunteer coordinator and math tutor for three years. “To see someone go on to take a GED test and succeed is very gratifying.”
“It expanded my definition of what a student is,” says Emma Morrissey ’15, a coordinator and writing tutor for the program for three years, who took a course in criminology because of her experiences in the program.
“I love interacting with the juveniles,” Banach says. “They have a refreshing perspective on life and are always enthusiastic to learn.”
Being able to participate in the program early on in her academic career is allowing Banach to learn about the juvenile justice system from the inside and make a difference in the lives of incarcerated students while still a student herself.
“It’s extremely rewarding when a tutee gets a problem right or figures out a concept he did not think he could calculate,” she says. “They often surprise themselves which is inspiring.”
Grinnell’s Liberal Arts in Prison program also offers other volunteer programs, like serving as tutors and teaching not-for-credit classes at an adult prison facility. Approximately 50 students per semester volunteer through the program.