UNIVERSITY WITHOUT WALLS
In 2017, PNAP launched University Without Walls (UWW) at Stateville in partnership with Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU). The launch marked the first time a secular, degree-granting program was offered at Stateville in more than 20 years.
UWW is a non-traditional, competency-based degree-completion program that serves adult students who have professional, community, political, and life experiences that have resulted in significant college-level learning. Newly admitted students establish advisory teams made up of a faculty advisor from NEIU and a community advisor with expertise in the students’ area of study and document prior learning, note learning goals, and draft a learning contract. Over the next two years, students take PNAP classes and independent studies and consult closely with advisors to complete their degrees. PNAP Co-Directors of University Curriculum, Tim Barnett and Erica Meiners, Program Manager for Academic Inquiry, Jason LaFountain, and part-time staff members Gabrielle Christiansen, Brock Grenn, and Katherine Shah currently support the students.
The first cohort of seven students graduated in May 2019, marking a milestone in Illinois for the advancement of educational programming behind bars. Student depth areas included Critical Carceral-Legal Studies, Poetic Justice in Black Culture, Transformative Justice, and Resource Development for Non-Profits. The graduation ceremony featured remarks by Angela Davis, Emerita Professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Juliana Stratton, Lieutenant Governor of Illinois, and a musical performance by Chance the Rapper. Graduates’ families, PNAP community members, and fellow students joined the graduates to celebrate the occasion. Our second cohort of 5 students graduated in October 2022. The ceremony featured remarks by Fred Moten, Professor in the Department of Performance Studies, Tisch School of the Arts, at New York University, Gina Dent, co-founder of Visualizing Abolition at UC Santa Cruz, and music by Chance. Ten students are now enrolled in the third UWW Stateville cohort.
with faculty and community advisors
Chris Merchant (NEIU) and Ruth Poor (SAIC)
Benny Rios Donjuan
Tim Libretti (NEIU) and Xóchitl Guerrero (UIC)
Courtney Francis (NEIU) and Sam Chen (UChicago)
Erica Meiners (NEIU) and Damon Williams (#LetUsBreathe Collective)
Maurice McFarlin (NEIU) and David Nayak (Strength to Love Foundation)
Adrian Castrejon (NEIU) and Annie Raccuglia (Michael Rakowitz Studio)
Maurice McFarlin (NEIU) and Sarah Ross (SAIC)
Dennis Sagel (NEIU) and Damon Locks (PNAP, etc.)
Noe Mojica (NEIU) and Gina Fedock (UChicago)
Tim Barnett (NEIU) and Kelly Hayes (Truthout)
For current student bios, see page 2.
Class of ’22
Class of ’19
UWW alumni continue to play an important role in the PNAP/UWW community. Many are active members of PNAP’s Think Tank. They also work as teaching assistants in PNAP courses, mentor current degree students, and are even beginning to teach PNAP classes. Alumni hold community-based internships, as well, with partner organizations. Current internship matches include Joseph Dole with the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights; Raul Dorado with the National Public Housing Museum; Reginald BoClair with the Visualizing Abolition initiative at UC Santa Cruz; Darnell Lane with the PRAXIS Structural Justice Group at the University of Chicago; and Juan Luna with Organized Communities Against Deportations.
This section of the UWW webpage highlights recent work by current students and alumni.
UWW students Benny Rios Donjuan and Miguel Morales, together with alumnus Juan Luna, contributed primary design features to our Little Village Mural project, developed in PNAP’s Latinx Art, Latinx History class during Spring 2023 and realized in community along 26th Street this past summer. The mural’s subject is the transformative influence of art and educational programming at Stateville.
Benny devised the lettering for the Che Guevara quotation [“Seamos realistas y hagamos lo imposible”] which Miguel proposed for inclusion in the mural; local artist Natalie Martinez painted much of that passage, which is intricately rendered in metallic black.
Miguel made a sensitive pencil drawing of a bird, which was then beautifully painted in pink, red, and blue by Chicago artists Leevon Matthews and Ruth Poor. Our TA, Juan, sketched the leftmost figure, who was also painted by Leevon and Ruth.
The younger figure reading–who reflects the age range of PNAP students incarcerated at Stateville–was originally developed by PNAP student Luis Trevino and faculty member Helen Sanchez-Cortes, then further modified in the process of painting by Helen and Leevon. Absorbed in his reading, he is rough and provisional. (Mural photos taken by Helen Sanchez-Cortes and Leevon Matthews)
For more on this mural project, see our Flickr page.