Distinguished as nationally renowned speakers, activists, and professors, Dr. Angela Davis and Dr. Marc Lamont Hill will serve as the keynote presenters for the 18th Annual Building Bridges Conference: Sentenced for Life: Confronting the Calamity of Mass Incarceration.
Taking place on Mar. 9, the day-long conference will focus on the injustices of the United States prison and criminal justice system.
“Most of our students know someone who is related to them in some way that has been a part of the criminal justice system, this including parole officers, probation officials, or [imprisoned individuals],” Assistant Dean of Students and Director of Diversity and Office of Multicultural Programs Virgil Jones said.
“They might not think about the people that they don’t know who have experienced life changing events as a result of being engaged with the criminal justice system that will not only affect their kids, but their kids’ kids. Mass incarceration has multigenerational effects,” Jones said.
“And even if you don’t fit into either of those categories, as a tax payer and citizen, you should know where your tax dollars are going and how effective or not effective the programs are as a matter of practice,” Jones said.
The first speaker of the morning will be Angela Davis, a social equality activist and author. Davis has spent the last
fifteen years as a Professor of Feminist Theories and History of Consciousness at the University of California—Santa Cruz.
“She is a phenomenally fascinating person. She is a passionate speaker with a lot to say. We want people to come engage her and challenge her ideas and their own ideas of the criminal justice system. If you challenge her on your ideas, she won’t be afraid to challenge you back and that sort of dialogue is what we are hoping for,” Senior Political Science Major and Building Bridges Co-chair Jasmine Porter said.
Davis is known as an exceptionally vocal civil rights activist. Previously affiliated with the Black Panther Party, Davis also was on the FBI’s Most Wanted list on false charges and has spent time in the federal prison system. Today, she is an advocate for prison abolition and is concerned with the general tendency to devote more resources to the prison system than to educational institutions. Common themes of her work also focus on a range of problems associated with incarnation and criminalization of communities affected by poverty and racial discrimination.
“She pushes people to think of a society where it is not necessary to have a criminal justice system,” Junior Political Science Major and Building Bridges Co-chair Becca Eastwood said.
Marc Lamont Hill will present a keynote speech in the afternoon. Hill, considered to be a leading hip-hop generation intellectual, has been with Columbia University as a Professor of Education at Teachers College. Hill also serves as a frequent contributor to CNN, MSNBC, NPR, Washington Post, Essence Magazine, and The New York Times.
“Whereas Angela Davis discusses prison abolition, Marc Lamont Hill talks about why we have prison systems, how we benefit from them and what the social implications of having a culture so heavily dependent on it are,” Eastwood said.
Hill, a prolific author, also hosts the national syndicated television show, Our World With Black Enterprise.”
“He is really good at talking to college audiences, and relating to them culturally. He will also link high incarceration rates and education, relating them back to the prison pipeline system,” Eastwood said.
“I hope the people who attend the conference come away from it having changed for the better,” Jones said.
“I hope that the knowledge and dialogue that has become the organic byproduct of the conference help the participants understand better about the social problems of the world than when before they came to the conference. When people think of signature events of Gustavus, I want them to think about Nobel, Christmas in Christ Chapel, the MayDay conference, and Building Bridges as life-giving experiences,” Jones said.
Jones also commends the group for their committment to the conference.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better group of students to work with. I have learned as much as they might say they have learned from me. They have done an incredible job learning how to lead others,” Jones said.
In regards to advising, Porter and Eastwood wish to recognize Virgil Jones for his leadership and influence.
“Virgil Jones has been the most influential, supportive, and amazing advisor that we could ask for. He does everything in his power to help students, and we love him unconditionally from the bottom of our hearts and could not have done this without him. Building Bridges would not be the same without him,” Porter said.