4 thoughts on “A dissertation defense behind bars

  1. The following is a post written by one of the participants in the defense and posted by Dr. Parsons.

    Critiquing a Scholar

    When I initially signed up for Dr. Anne Parsons’ Mock Dissertation Defense, I was thrilled to be one of the first EJP students to have this opportunity. I was also very curious about the process one endures which leads to the awarding of a doctoral degree. After reading the assigned material and listening to Dr. Parsons deftly answer questions from the student panel assembled, I became aware she was not awarded the degree she sought; she had in fact earned it.

    During the defense, Anne accepted my critiques of her research in a welcoming way and that relieved my apprehension. Who would have thought I would have the chance to critique the findings of an actual Ph. D candidate? I felt compelled to let her know the legal citations to which she referred in her dissertation could and should be more precise, because readers might feel compelled to use her research as a point of reference to further their own course of study. A point which is magnified by the fact legal references change depending on the part of the country you are in, especially when the source cited is not a federal-level cause. Therefore; a citing from the State of Pennsylvania is more difficult to find in Illinois.

    I was also one of the students who stressed the need to hear individual voices of those directly affected by the seismic shift from mental health assistance in asylums to actually incarcerating these individuals as a result of changing legislative policies; policies which turned a blind eye to the necessity for asylums in an effort to expand the Prison Industrial Complex, which turned asylums into prisons nationwide.

    As an individual who is currently incarcerated I’m well-aware how this shift from mental health treatment has caused individuals and their families’ unnecessary pain and anguish. Because the sentences many are serving could have been avoidable if the same funds which keep them incarcerated were used to provide adequate medical treatment and therapeutic opportunities . And it is for these reasons I hope Anne and her colleagues will continue to reveal this otherwise hidden history to the general public.

  2. When Anne first started asking the men of EJP how they felt about her presenting her dissertation defense here at the prison I thought is this white women gone crazy. Everybody knows that a dissertation defense is something that happens in a academic university with several prestigious people who all have doctorates degrees deciding if the graduate student has successfully acquired enough knowledge to join the ranks of his/her fellow esteemed colleagues. It’s not something that takes place in a multi-purpose room in a prison serving as a classroom for three hours, right?

    Looking back my initial reaction was how in the hell did Anne plan on bridging the gap between the university and the prison, and what the significance of this endeavor? Intrigued with the thought of possibly sitting in on a dissertation defense I started asking questions; what is a dissertation? What goes into the defense of a dissertation? What are the expectations of the graduated student and the committee? And what is Anne expectation of me/us serving as a mock committee?

    When Anne explained that my task was to read and critique a significant portion of her dissertation, “Re-institutionalizing America: The Politics of Mental Health and Incarceration in America, 1945-1985” I thought how cool is this. I felt so many things at once i.e. empowered, liberated, and honored. I can’t speak for all the men who found themselves in the same situation (being on this committee , but being incarcerated has a way of devaluing a person worth, so when Anne provided a way for us to show that we had the academic currency to critique her dissertation, I for one felt empowered.
    In a way Anne validated all that we are doing here at EJP, while embodying the atmosphere of what we are teaching and learning every day, “That one moment doesn’t define who you are, but it’s what you do after that does”, and for me that has been pursuing my education and trying to give back to society.

    Why do I believe that having a dissertation defense is significant in institutions like Danville or any prison across America? For one it open the doors to a part of Academic that has been closed off to a segment of the population that has been condemned and stripped of their [personal liberties] it also gives them a voice to weigh in on matters concerning policies.

    What I found intriguing was what happened afterwards. Anne admitted that some of the ideas raised during our mock dissertation were not critiqued during her dissertation on campus, and that she was going to consider revising her dissertation to include them. If this is not a good reason for having a mock dissertation at a prison then I don’t know what will.

  3. It’s great to hear these thoughts from people who participated in Anne’s “mock” dissertation defense (and I put “mock” in quotation marks because it’s clear that this was actually a serious exchange for both sides). It takes such a lot of effort to have voices and ideas flow across these kinds of systemic barriers, in either direction!

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