Resources for teaching Just Mercy

Hello beloved colleagues! Here is a starter kit on teaching Just Mercy, mass incarceration, and racial reconciliation in the classroom. There’s more. There’s so much more. Just ask.

Mass incarceration – the data: 

Mass incarceration and youth detention in Virginia:

Mass Incarceration Writ Large

Narratives of Crime in the US

Sentencing: a quick guide via twitter, spied between conference sessions.

CRE is, as usual, full of amazing people doing difficult work, about which I’d love to write. I am, however, sacked. In the meantime, please enjoy this great summary of sentencing issues by Greg Doucette:

I’m a fan of Doucette for a few reasons, among which are his sharp eye for judicial failures and his practical assessments of what would need to happen to see more equity in outcomes. This (above) is an abbreviated section of his check in on the Stanford Rape case, about which he wrote quite a lot on June 7th. I read through his responses between training sessions, and made a note to collect a few here as a sort of summary guide to discretionary, structured, and mandatory sentencing practices. The differences are important, and not always super clear.
Enjoy, and enjoy the weekend! Now that I’m done with the conference pre-trainings I’m hoping to check in a bit more.

Checking in and Catching up

I’ve barely written at all this year, on my VCU site or on any of the other spaces I frequent online. I think the only online space that’s seen much of me lately is Twitter, in part because it’s so merciful for people who are low on resources. Over the next couple of months I’ll be reorienting where I write and how. Thats…tough. Writing is (for me at least) profoundly contextual. I find my own writing dictates my thought process, and my thinking is a precarious thing. I would love to be the kind of bold thinker whose voice takes one message and one character regardless of context, but I’m not so lucky, nor so well formed.

This is where I’ll be writing for the summer, and for the foreseeable future. I may revert to Tumblr when I need to be less formal or to connect with colleagues there, and I’ll remain a source of endless mindless chatter on Twitter, but I’ll do most of my long-  and short- form writing here. It’ll be an easy transition, as no one’s reading me here these days. High-Investment Low-Impact is a good writing situation for me.


My work with VCU’s ASPiRE program went well enough that they’re not yet getting rid of me. Our 2015-2016 schedule was incredibly fun, but this coming year we’ll be doing things a little differently. We’ll be moving away from the reading groups and toward more engaged actions: I’m hoping to partner with VCU Art Ed faculty Courtnie Wolfgang for some of it! Many events will be collaborations between ASPiRE and VCU’s common book initiative, with whom I’m also partnering this year. Expect a schedule by late summer.

This year I’ll also be launching an oral history project in collaboration with my colleague at IU Fidelia Igwe. This represents a number of labor of loves for Fidelia and I: most notably charting and archiving the impact of mass incarceration on both individuals and communities. We’ve had a tremendous amount of support already from incredible people who work in radio, archives, and oral history, most especially Tim Hensley at the Virginia Holocaust Museum. More thanks will come to them soon.

I’m headed back to CRE this summer, but I’m not facilitating a workshop this year. Instead I’ll be receiving training from the Sustained Dialogue Institute on incorporating sustained dialogue into programming at VCU. There’s a lot of potential for this work in Richmond and in our student body. Through VCU’s Institute for Inclusive Teaching I was able to meet with Dr. Adrienne Dessel this year to talk through the program she works with at the University of Michigan, and as it happens their work is housed in UM’s University College, which I hope is a good sign for future work that might be done in my unit at VCU. We’ve already had luck launching VCU’s first Safe Spaces course, which might be paving the way for similar programming. While I’m not running any training at CRE I am happy to note that my co-facilitator from last year and I will be revising a paper this summer for publication in the fall.

Finally, my work in FI will be shifting a bit in the upcoming year. It’s my last year working as coordinator of curriculum and textbooks for our 111/112 course sequence. I’ll be teaching an odd set of courses this year: in addition to my FI class I’ll be running a section of ENG215 (with the topic “Culture | Counterculture”) and an independent study “Biopolitics and the Arts” for a particularly ambitious student from the spring.

That’s it for updates, especially since this new site is low in readership. I’m hoping to check in over the course of the next week during CRE, where I’ll be getting a great deal of guidance both for my work at VCU and for the pending launch of our oral history program.

UndocuAlly Training this Sunday:

This initiative was spearheaded by VCU ASPiRE students! I’m incredibly lucky to get to work with these guys:

We are holding an event called UndocuAlly Training in Harris Hall room 2107 on Sunday, March 20th, from 10am to 2pmThe UndocuAlly Training is simply a workshop designed to inform participants–both students and faculty–about the struggles of Undocumented students and about how we can be better allies. Breakfast and lunch will be served. Participants of the workshop will receive a certificate of completion and a magnet that shows you are an ally to undocumented students that may be displayed in your office. RSVP here.
For questions contact Camille Brenke at

humansofnewyork: “I tried to make some money the honest way as…


“I tried to make some money the honest way as a kid. I tried shoveling snow. I tried a newspaper route. I stuck with it for awhile, but one day I was collecting money on my route and these older kids robbed me. There were three of them. They were 16 or 17. I fought hard. I told them: ‘I worked hard for this money.’ But they held me down and took it anyway. It was $27. And that made me feel so powerless. And I remembered that I knew someone with a knife. And I thought: ‘I’m going to steal that knife and deal with this firmly.’ I found those boys at an arcade. Nobody got killed. But I hurt them. I wouldn’t say that I felt proud after stabbing them, but I felt like they got what they deserved. I felt vindicated. Even today, I have trouble sympathizing with them. It’s funny how that works. When someone wrongs us, we want the maximum amount of punishment. But when we do wrong, we want the maximum amount of understanding and forgiveness.”

(Metropolitan Correctional Center, New York)

TODAY: Self-Publishing and Social Justice Workshop / Black Lives Matter Symposium

4:30 – Self-Publishing and Social Justice Workshop

The VCU Association of Black Social Workers cosponsors the Self-Publishing and Social Justice Workshop in the Academic Learning Commons, Room 3201. The workshop will offer participants information on how to self-publish books. Graphic novels offer well-written and exciting stories, new points of view and stimulating artwork. They appeal to a wide audience of readers and platforms to address social issues that confront children today. For more information, contact Ronnie Sidney, II, MSW at or make the jump here.”

7pm – Black Lives Matter Symposium
The MLK Planning Committee announces the Black Lives Matter Symposium in the University Student Commons, Commonwealth Ballrooms, as part of MLK Celebration Week 2016. The symposium will feature leaders from the VCU and Richmond communities and Bree Newsome, a nationally recognized activist. For more information, contact University Student Commons and Activities at or (804) 828-6500 or visit

Heads up: Teaching in the Humanities Workshop Series (cross posted at /focusedinquiry)

Alternatives to the Paper: Exploring Creative Assignments and Digital Possibilities

February 9, 2016, 2-3.30pm 
Humanities Research Center, Seminar Room 201, 920 W. Franklin Street

“Looking to get more than the traditional 3-5 page essay often used in humanities classes? Tired of worrying about plagiarism?  Thinking about how to change things up a bit in your writing assignment? This session on Teaching in the Humanities will provide strategies for designing alternative assignments, examples of creative approaches, and opportunities to discuss moving from conception to assignment. Attendees are encourage to bring their questions, ideas, and strategies for a lively discussion.”

I am ready for spring semester.

That is not to say I’m prepared! I have a huge pile of things to do: an article that needs revised, a syllabus that needs completed, 3 units of work to design, ASPiRE programming to organize, etc. etc.. I’m, though, really ready to get things going. My Department had its winter institute yesterday, though, and I came away from it ready to do work that I love. I work with incredible people, my students are amazing, and this spring (while over-scheduled) is filled with incredible opportunities.

Here’s what’s coming up:

  • a potentially big collaborative student research project that will involve several sections of UNIV112 and classes at Old Dominion University,
  • a reading group with VCU ASPiRE students at the Richmond City Jail and a community panel debating Angela Davis’s brave question, “Are Prisons Obsolete?”,
  • an oral history project in partnership with a former student whose research now overlaps my own,
  • a faculty learning community on web design where (hopefully) I can start to launch a site for the above oral history project,
  • more work on VCU’s Gen Ed Task Force building out our general education program to better meet the needs of students across the board, and
  • Radioactive-inspired video art project with the VCU’s class of 2019.

A good semester! Plus, my desk looks like this right now: