Higher Education for the Justice-Involved (HEJI)
Western Michigan University Higher Education for the Justice-Involved (HEJI; formerly Prison Education Outreach Program) has operated in close partnership with the Michigan Department of Corrections since 2017, offering coursework and mentoring sessions to incarcerated individuals at the Lakeland Correctional Facility Coldwater, MI. With readings and assignments based on upper-level philosophy courses, the program administered the following sessions at the Lakeland facility during its successful pilot phase: Critical Thinking (Fall 2018); Introduction to Ethics (Spring 2019); Education and Human Flourishing (Fall 2019); and Ethical and Social Theory: Mass Incarceration in the U.S. (Spring 2020; Covid-impacted).
II. Launch of Credit- and Credential-Bearing Programming
Starting in August of 2023, HEJI will offer face-to-face instruction to students at the Lakeland Correctional Facility. For the first cohort, 25-30 students will be offered admission into the Student Planned Major, a Bachelor of Arts degree in the College of Arts and Sciences at WMU. To successfully complete this rigorous degree program, students must complete a minimum of 122 college credits over approximately five years. HEJI will provide humanities-rich, dialogical, relational, and textual instruction and college credit towards stackable credentials in the liberal arts.
III. About the Proposed Liberal Arts Coursework
The Liberal Arts coursework in which the HEJI program is rooted will provide students with the opportunity to engage with fundamental concerns of the human experience via the study of important texts in the humanities, social sciences, and beyond. The coursework will (1) cultivate the critical thinking, analytic, and creative skills which enable students to more clearly think, read, write, and speak—skills which enable students to succeed as citizens, regardless of vocation; (2) prepare students to analyze evidence, synthesize conflicting points of view, evaluate assumptions and biases to attain a balanced perspective, and develop critical interpretations of their significance; and (3) provide students with a shared intellectual experience so often absent from institutions of higher education.
Through the study of important works in the humanities, social sciences, and beyond, Student Planned Major coursework will provide students with the opportunity to engage with many of life’s key questions (What does it mean to be human? What is freedom? Who am I? What is love?) and themes (justice, truth, resilience, identity). In our search for understanding, we ask questions of things, of books, of people, and so on. But things, books, and people also ask questions of us; they question us right back. This type of education is not an alternative to professional or technical modes of education—it is the very foundation on which they stand.