The United States makes up just 5 percent of the world’s population, yet has 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. And it’s costing the nation close to $70 billion a year.
In response to these growing concerns, UNCG and 18 other universities in the United States, along with the Parsons School of Design campus in Paris, France, are participating in “States of Incarceration,” a traveling exhibit, web platform and curricula focusing on mass incarceration.
The exhibit is organized and produced by The New School’s Humanities Action Lab (HAL), a coalition of universities – including UNCG – that works to foster dialogue through public humanities projects.
Graduate students in UNCG’s museum studies program have developed the university’s contribution to the exhibit, which will be on display Nov. 8 through Dec. 15 at the International Civil Rights Center & Museum in downtown Greensboro.
UNCG’s “chapter” examines a moment in the 1920s when prisoners on North Carolina chain gangs flooded state agencies and private advocates with letters documenting extreme physical abuse. Using this unique moment in history, the exhibit considers how historical patterns are recreated in our present-day system.
UNCG is the only participating university in the UNC System. The project is led by history professors Dr. Christopher Graham and Dr. Anne Parsons, who is currently on research leave while she finishes her book on the closure of mental hospitals and the rise of mass incarceration.
“Our students are making a strong case for why history and the humanities matter to our contemporary dialogue,” Graham said. “This is a unique opportunity for our students. They’re getting hands-on experience working on a national exhibition, which is really exciting.”
In addition to the exhibit at the museum, UNCG is organizing a variety of public events and programming surrounding the topic of mass incarceration. The university is working with multiple community partners to finalize plans for events this fall.
“We’ll be looking at incarceration from the point of view of the people who are affected by this system, specifically prisoners and their families,” Graham said. “We believe it’s important to understand and appreciate multiple points of view, and this is one that is often not taken into consideration.”
In addition to UNCG, Duke University, University of Texas at Austin, Brown University and University of Miami, among others, have each created their own chapters.
Story by Alyssa Bedrosian, University Relations