Evan DaCosta | April 1, 2018
A panel discussion hosted by the Kaneb Center covered various faculty members’ experiences teaching college-level courses at the Westville Correctional Facility, a medium-level security institution southwest of South Bend.
The panelists included Maria McKenna, an education and Africana studies professor, Kaneb Center fellow and English professor Kate Marshall, the William R. Kenan, Jr. professor of English Valerie Sayers and Daniel Graff, director of the Higgins Labor Program.
The panelists began their discussion explaining their own personal reasons for wanting to teach at Westville. Each panelist explained their own beliefs regarding the Westville Education Initiative (WEI), the importance of “practicing what you preach” and making a difference in an individual inmate’s life. They each stressed the importance of recognizing that teaching at Westville was not engaging in prison reform — it was simply teaching a class to college students.
The audience at the event was primarily composed of faculty members and graduate students, who were able to ask panelists questions throughout the event. Many of the questions from faculty members were about the logistics of teaching at Westville and future opportunities to teach there.
One faculty audience member, who currently teaches chemistry at Westville, discussed the differences in teaching Notre Dame undergraduates and prison inmates. For him, the primary difference is the background of his students. Most of the Westville inmates enrolled in the educational initiative hold a GED rather than a conventional high school diploma.