In the fall semester of 2016, the Department of Rhetoric at Whitman College and Washington State Penitentiary launched a new course, now known as Whitman College’s RHET 270: Rhetoric, Incarceration, and Civic Engagement taught by Professor Heather Ashley Hayes with the support of Washington Department of Corrections staff. This course is comprised of Whitman College students from all three of the Whitman College's divisions (natural sciences and mathematics, social sciences, and the humanities and arts) as well as incarcerated students from Washington State Penitentiary. These students collaboratively research the effects of mass incarceration on democracy and civic engagement in their communities, grounding their efforts in Michelle Alexander’s work The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Era of Colorblindness.
The students of this course meet weekly for a full fifteen week semester at the prison in Walla Walla, WA (aka Washington State Penitentiary). Those efforts culminate in a public town hall discussion where students present a number of perspectives in collaborative groups to help us think about the effects of incarceration as they relate to citizens’ ability to have a voice in this community. All semester, the students prepare to address a central question: what does it mean to be an engaged citizen in the era of mass incarceration?
Public town hall events are held at the end of each course. The next one will be on December 11, 2018. The audience size is limited, so if you would like to consider attending, please contact Professor Hayes via email.
background check form instructions
Each person attending the public town hall as part of this project must complete, and pass, a criminal background check in order to enter the Washington State Penitentiary. Please complete the boxes with yellow arrows next to them (14 boxes total) and return the form to Professor Heather Ashley Hayes (by email, Whitman College campus mail, or in person) if you are a community member interested in attending the next town hall, to be held in December 11, 2018, at Washington State Penitentiary. NOTE: Every person entering Washington State Penitentiary is subject to the Visitor Guidelines of the Penitentiary, found here. We look forward to welcoming you to one of these events!
Download a blank copy of the background check form here.