Yesterday was the first full class meeting for Professor Ellen Scott's Inside-Out sociology class at the Oregon State Penitentiary. The class is entitled Institutional Inequalities and Individual Lives, and is focusing on the sociological processes of social injustice and the process of structural inequality. This is Professor Scott's first class, and I'm working with her as a graduate teaching fellow for the class, serving as a teaching assistant and helping with the logistics of university and prison relationships.
Our first day meeting together was wonderful. Our students, inside and outside, are a fabulous group with diverse experiences and interests, who are already bringing profound insights into our group dynamic and the subject material. I can't wait to see what unfolds in the course of the class.
This is my third Inside-Out experience. Watching the group on the first day, I was able to witness the process by which our individuals became a group. The nervousness that had been expressed on both sides was quickly eliminated. The Wagon Wheel became somewhat unruly, with conversations lingering beyond the instruction to move on to new seats. There was laughter and the dynamic feel to the dialogue that emerges when people have a genuine interest in one another. Joksters emerged, as did those who were focused tightly on the sociological theories presented. Within the first hour, we had all spoken with one another, and were developing the baselines of friendships through common and divergent interests and experiences.
Half of the inside students have taken at least one Inside-Out class before. Because of the concentration of Inside-Out professors in Oregon, and their choice to teach a variety of different courses, students have enrolled multiple times, and are accruing university credit and experience. One outside student, in addition to myself, is also an alumni of a previous Inside-Out class. The returning students eased the first class somewhat, through their comfort with the surroundings, but also through their honest expression of their nervousness and the depth of the experience to come. For the new students, the honesty of the experienced class members seemed to open up a space for greater confidence from the first moment.
By the end of our first three-hour meeting, we had covered a lot of ground. We got to know each other through the Wagon Wheel and "Two Truths and a Lie" icebreakers. We introduced one another to the group as a whole, telling a bit of what we'd learned in the icebreaking activities. We established our group rules for dialogue in a collaborative way. We then spent about forty-five minutes discussing the text read for the week: Jay McLeod's Ain't No Making It. The social theory and ethnographic studies produced in the text opened an elevated and engaged conversation about our social positions and the differing theories of class in the United States.
Over the next eight weeks we will discuss the experiences of our fellow Americans who suffer from poverty, a lack of health insurance, the inability to escape the lower class status inherited from their parents, and the situation of those who are incarcerated. I have every faith that our class will tackle these difficult topics with respect and enthusiasm, and that we will arrive at our graduation ceremony with a new idea of our own lives and relationships.
Leaving OSP yesterday, I felt a great surge of hope and inspiration. Our students were shaking hands, wishing each other well, and joking as they left the classroom. Those of us in blue and those of us with visitor nametags were a single group for a moment, leaving as students to return to our various routines. A new cohort of Inside-Out student has been formed, with all the promise and pain that this entails. I can hardly wait to see what will happen next.