Aditi Mehta, Ph.D. is a scholar and educator of urban studies and planning.

When Prison is A Classroom

During the Spring 2016 semester, I served as a teaching assistant for Professor Justin Steil’s course 11.407: Urban Sociology in Theory and Practice.  To create a learning environment that expands the sources for knowledge production in planning and that engages with a broader range of perspectives on inequality than the typical classroom, we taught the class inside a medium-security men’s prison with a combination of imprisoned and non-imprisoned university students. I conducted ethnographic participant observation of each class session, and documented the discussions and group dynamics. Using emergent coding, I identified themes from classroom discussion that were repeated across the weeks. I also facilitated focus group discussions with participants and drew from students’ written reflections to assess learning outcomes. We found that in comparison to traditional classroom settings, members of this class demonstrated: 1) a heightened awareness of one’s positionality; 2) a greater nuance in the understanding of structure and agency; and 3) an ability to engage readings with lived experience. 

This article is published in the Journal of Planning Education and Research.