For ten years, Carrie Hutnick has connected college students with meaningful service learning opportunities. Currently she works as the Social Action and Integrative Learning (SAIL) program’s community development coordinator. Now, as part of her doctoral research, Hutnick is exploring the impact of an unusual learning experience shared between undergraduates and people incarcerated in the U.S. correctional system.
Prior to her work with SAIL, Hutnick volunteered with Americorps, working at a community center in Baltimore connecting residents with a variety of social services. At the center, Hutnick also relied on student volunteers from area colleges.
Hutnick said, “I learned more about the social service system in that one year than anywhere else. That experienced affirmed my belief that change should come from within communities. The students [I worked with] were changed. They saw that they could use their own agency to do something.”
Following this, Hutnick earned a master’s degree in higher education and service learning from University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Later, as the service learning coordinator at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, she became involved with the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, helping to facilitate Saint Joe’s Inside-Out courses.
Inside-Out brings together traditional undergraduate students and people incarcerated to meet once per week for a semester-long course conducted by a professor trained in the Inside-Out model. Many courses explore themes such as freedom and justice and the prison industrial complex. Courses are taught for college credit and are held in the prison itself, to enable all class members to fully participate in group discussions and learning.
Hutnick continues her work with Inside-Out at Graterford State Correctional Institution in Pennsylvania. Hutnick travels there weekly to participate in the Think Tank, which brings 15 “outside” professors and former students together with 15 “inside” participants incarcerated there, all of whom have participated in one or more Inside-Out courses. The group discusses program development and policies, reviews articles and conducts writing activities. They also organize and facilitate a monthly community workshop for interested supporters to participate in a group discussion around one theme.
Hutnick has seen the impact that the courses have on students’ understanding of the prison system. She said, “When people go into the prison space, they see how hope, agency, relationships and a sense of self are all removed. Students see what our society has created and they enter into the thought logic of order, distrust and control… [Inside the prison, though] you see people who have literally been thrown away.”
One inside Think Tank member is currently completing a masters’ degree and Hutnick plans to partner with this scholar as she drafts her own doctoral dissertation. For her project, Hutnick will focus on the ideology of social change and will examine the impact that programs like Inside-Out has had on those from both sides of the program.
Hutnick said, “Any effective movement has to be led by those who are affected. We will look at individual attitudes and the institutions that support them. We want to explore service learning as social change, and ultimately explore the agency for both groups to enact change.”
Hutnick knows that input from a collaborator incarcerated at Graterford will provide the multidimensional research and approach that a comprehensive study requires. Hutnick and her writing partner hope their unusual research format spotlights the powerful change that can happen when two seemingly disparate groups come together to learn.
These experiences carry over into Hutnick’s participation in NCLC 475: Creativity as Social Action and Transformation. In this course led by Professor Suzanne Scott Constantine, Hutnick helps facilitate discussions between Mason students and ex-offenders to better understand the systemic inequalities that exist in the current social system.
March 07, 2016