Multicultural literature course hosts family, friends for online graduation

Devin, a student in Afro-American Studies 155 (spring 2021) reads a booklet

“Reading and reflecting on writings at this magnitude has allowed us to respond and be heard, to be a part of the community […] and to be more than just numbers in a system or pictures on our relatives’ wall.” —Randy, student in Afro-American Studies 155 (spring 2021)

On a bright afternoon in early May, smiling faces looked out from a computer screen to celebrate the end of a successful semester at Oakhill Correctional. It was the culmination of 15 weeks of hard work in Odyssey Beyond Bars’ new course, Afro American Studies 155 Intro to Multicultural Literature, in which students interpreted works by James Baldwin, Reginald Dwayne Betts, Natalie Diaz and more. Due to COVID, the entire course was virtual, with instruction and tutoring provided over Zoom and OBB’s new prison-friendly learning management system, developed by Moraine Park Technical College.

Each OBB course concludes with a graduation event on the last day of class. This year, for the first time ever, students’ friends and family were able to join by Zoom. Students chose their favorite writing assignment to present to the audience, and all students rejoiced in their collective and individual accomplishments. Three generations were represented in the audience, with students’ children and parents all in attendance.

Watching the graduation ceremony, Odyssey Project founder and co-director Emily Auerbach commented, “I literally got goosebumps when I saw children squeezing their faces close to the Zoom screen to better see their dad speak. I was so happy Odyssey’s multigenerational approach to learning could extend to our prison program. Children could view their dad not just as a prisoner behind bars but as an intellectual with dignity and a future beyond bars.”

Joy and pride overflowed the classroom that day. Due to COVID, visitation has been significantly limited in Wisconsin prisons, and our students have struggled to stay connected with loved ones. Elated smiles and proud faces looked back at their loved ones as they celebrated the students’ academic accomplishments. Thank you to the educational team at Oakhill for making this happen!

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