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May Update from YPEI


Dear Friends, When I last wrote to you, it was to update you on suspended programming in prisons given the increasing threat of COVID-19, the state of our program, the state of our field, and the state of our students inside. Today, I write from what would have been the end of Finals Period on campus. Instead, Yale students and faculty are dispersed across the globe, and moving towards the conclusion of this academic semester — and the beginning of summer — remotely. At YPEI, we are feeling a deep sense of loss. For the past two years, we have admitted new cohorts of incarcerated students in the month of May. It is always a profound and humbling moment for our program: each time we post flyers in prison to invite new applicants, we receive something in the realm of 600 requests for consideration for each new 12-15 person cohort. The best day of our year is orientation, when the new cohort gathers together for the first time in a classroom inside the prison, receives fresh supplies and a tall stack of new books and coursepacks, and prepares to launch into intensive in-person summer courses. Each year, this gathering feels like a call to battle: together, we have chosen to fight for something precious. The prisons may now be closed to us, but our program is not going anywhere. We are now sending and receiving assignments by mail, fostering independent studies and workshops led via correspondence by Yale faculty and students, offering remote writing workshops, and developing upcoming projects that will enable YPEI students to participate in and lead their own seminars and discussion groups during the quarantine on a variety of topics. And last week, in the midst of this crisis, YPEI marked a big milestone on campus. On Thursday evening, at the faculty meeting of Yale College (which met by Zoom), Dean Marvin Chun heard a passionate chorus of faculty support for our program, and accepted recommendations made by Yale’s Ad Hoc Committee on Prison Education to formally sanction YPEI's ability to establish a new partnership to begin offering degrees in prison. I will keep you posted as we work together towards that goal in the year ahead. For now, we are focused on continuing to engage students in prison through the pandemic, and preparing to be able to fully serve them when we can reestablish face-to-face programming. You may have heard about the campaign for #GivingTuesdayNow. In Connecticut, the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven is leading “The Great Give", a 36-hour online-giving event to support local nonprofits that began this morning, and will run through tomorrow evening at 8PM. If you can, please consider making a contribution to our campaign today by clicking here or below, so that we can continue to work with incarcerated students through the pandemic, and return stronger than ever on the other side. With the future of higher education in prison uncertain, our program is needed now more than ever — we are so grateful for your support. Warmly (from a distance), Zelda PS: Thank you to those of you who have submitted notes of solidarity to our students. If you would still like to send one, please feel free to email it to



Incarcerated YPEI students are reading Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration — on paperback copies specifically printed for students in prison, thanks to an extraordinary donation from Nicole Fleetwood, Harvard University Press, and the Art for Justice Fund. Read more at our instagram post or find the book at Harvard UP (Image at top left: Tameca Cole: Locked in a Dark Calm, 2016.) Postponed May Day 1970 Commemoration: On Friday we commemorated the anniversary of May Day 1970 in New Haven, when tens of thousands of students, civil rights activists, professors, Black Panther Party leaders, and community members gathered on the New Haven Green to protest the trials of Bobby Seale and Ericka Huggins. YPEI had planned to participate in a slate of May Day programming led by our friends at ArtSpace New Haven, and had been looking forward to hosting Ericka Huggins for a special workshop with incarcerated YPEI students, now rescheduled for the Fall. Read more at this link. (Image at top right: Tom Strong: York Street Near Elm Street.) Members of Yale Class of 2020 raised $1100 for YPEI through the Alternative Senior Class Gift. Read this Op-Ed in the Yale Daily News to learn about why Yale undergraduates chose to support YPEI this year.

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