As fierce debate rages over social justice issues like immigration and incarceration, communities are looking for ways to address them. Turns out, the humanities could hold the key. And Phoenix is helping to make that happen.
Phoenix is one of 36 cities to participate in a national coalition called the Humanities Action Lab, which comprises universities, issue organizations, and public spaces exploring social issues at the heart of American life.
The coalition worked with students, as well as community members directly affected by incarceration policies and practices, for a project called States of Incarceration: A National Dialogue on Local Histories. Now, you can get a good look at their work.
The Humanities Action Lab is hosting a free touring exhibition called “States of Incarceration,” which runs through Saturday, October 27, at Burton Barr Central Library. The official launch for the Phoenix exhibit happens from 7 to 9 p.m. on Friday, September 7.
The event kicks off with a 7 p.m. screening of the film 1994, which explores the history of noncitizen detention in the U.S., as well as immigrant detention in Arizona. It’s being followed by a Q & A with filmmaker and ASU alum Judith Perera, plus a reception in the library’s second floor exhibition space.
Coalition organizers hope the project will help to promote public dialogue, community connections, and innovative solutions – plus create humanities-based models for addressing tough issues.
"We're tackling a national issue by exploring many local stories in a grounded way," says Leah Sarat, an associate professor of religious studies at ASU. She taught a fall 2015 class on incarceration, and her students contributed to the States of Incarceration project.
Here in Phoenix, there’s a robust lineup of related programming. "We hope these events help connect people who are having conversations about these issues on their own," Sarat says. Take a look, and mark your calendar if you want to be part of the ongoing dialogue.
Cuentos de fortaleza/Stories of Strength. 1 p.m. Saturday, September 22, at Burton Barr Central Library, 1221 North Central Avenue.
Hear personal stories from community members impacted by immigrant detention in and beyond Arizona.
Who Cares About Immigrant Detention? 5 p.m. Tuesday, October 2, at ASU Memorial Union (Pima Auditorium), 301 East Orange Street.
Hear a lecture, with discussion, titled “Who Cares About Immigrant Detention? Ignorance, Brutality, and Reasons for Optimism,” delivered by Mark Dow. Dow authored the 2004 book American Gulag: Inside U.S. Immigration Prisons.
Open Mic Night with Aliento. 7 p.m. Friday, October 5, at Burton Barr Central Library, 1221 North Central Avenue.
For an evening titled “Confinement + Liberation: Finding Freedom in Spaces of Incarceration,” Aliento welcomes community members to share and experience stories, poetry, songs, and dance promoting unity and vibrant communities. Aliento comprises immigrants and people of color seeking community alternatives to incarceration.
Is Incarceration the Best Approach to Address Criminal Behavior? 2 p.m. Saturday, October 13, at Burton Barr Central Library, 1221 North Central Avenue.
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Professor Julian Kunnie of the University of Arizona will address the economic, social, and political factors impacting mass incarceration rates, including private, for-profit prisons. Kunnie is a professor of religious studies and classics at UA.
Collectively, the events are designed to highlight the ways incarceration has implications for all communities. "The overall idea is that mass incarceration is something that effects everyone in one way or another," says Shana Russell, program manager for the project. "We are all implicated and should be participating in this national conversation about prison reform."
Russell notes that there are several ways people can engage with the exhibit, and related events. "For students and young people, we want them to have the tools to navigate these really difficult conversations on topics that we tend to shy away from having," Russell says. "Collaborating with community partners and people doing work on the ground means that we can make sure that conversation is being steered by people who are directly impacted."