As part of the Social Issues and Historical Contexts Initiative, the Colorado College History Department is hosting a two-day presentation and panel series entitled “Doing Time in Education: The School-to-Prison Pipeline,” featuring guest Anna Deavere Smith.
The Social Issues and Historical Contexts Initiative, or SIHC, began in 2014 after a $200,000 donation to the History department from an anonymous donor. SIHC focuses on the intersection and evolution of the contemporary and modern human experience, with a specific emphasis on the history of mass incarceration and imprisonment both within and outside of the United States.
Associate Professor of History Dr. Jane Murphy, a faculty participant in the SIHC initiative, is spearheading the event, a position she never expected but happily took over.
“This event came about from some both fortunate and unfortunate events,” said Dr. Murphy.
Ta-Nehisi Coates was on the roster to visit the college and had been a candidate for the SIHC visitors schedule for over a year and a half. Coates was scheduled to visit the college on Martin Luther King Jr. day, but could not due to unforeseen circumstances.
Dr. Murphy, left with the funds from both the SIHC donation and the History Department, was graced with the opportunity to bring an equally prolific guest to the college after listening to the radio one morning on her commute to the college.
“I was listening to NPR one morning on my way to campus,” said Dr. Murphy, “and heard an interview with Anna Deavere Smith …and I thought let’s just see if we can work a way to bring her to campus.”
Deavere Smith is a sufficiently qualified candidate for an SIHC presentation. An actress and activist, Deavere Smith performs one-woman shows in which she embodies people’s experiences with mass incarceration as it relates to the education system in the United States. She performs monologues from a range of perspectives: from principals to police officers, from teachers to toddlers and pre-school students.
In the interview with NPR that Dr. Murphy shared, Deavere Smith said, “We don’t have to look very far to see the relationship of school to the fact of mass incarceration…”
An experienced activist and philanthropist, Deavere Smith is famous for roles such as Nancy McNally on hit TV show The West Wing and Alicia on Black-ish. A native of Baltimore, Deavere Smith uses the arts as a platform for discussion and social justice in a society that is often desensitized to the discussion on mass incarceration.
Anna Deavere Smith will perform for the campus on Monday, Feb. 29. The following day (March 1), Deavere Smith will host a panel discussion of CC faculty and members of the greater Colorado and Southwest community who are well-versed in education and incarceration.
Dr. Murphy expressed great excitement on behalf of the SIHC initiative on building a community in which mass incarceration can be discussed, “It’s also giving us a chance… in creating community connections that we can draw on and expand.”
The SIHC initiative has spent $30,000 for the production and presentation of this event, a price that makes clear the significance of the issue to Colorado College, the Colorado Springs community, and the ongoing national discourse on mass incarceration.
Anna Deavere Smith’s performance will be held in the Kathryn Mohrman Theatre at 7 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 29. The panel on March 1 will be held in the Cornerstone Arts Center Celeste Theater at 7 p.m.