On Saturday, May 15, Yusef Pierce ’21 and Freddy Cisneros ’21 will participate in Pitzer College’s virtual commencement celebration from inside a medium-security prison in Norco, CA. Pierce and Cisneros are two of eight members of an initial cohort of students from the California Rehabilitation Center (CRC) who have been accepted into—and will graduate from—Pitzer through the College’s new Inside-Out Pathway-to-BA program. Pierce will graduate in May; Cisneros shortly thereafter this summer.
“They will be the first students ever to graduate with a college degree based on Inside-Out curriculum,” said Pitzer Professor Nigel Boyle, who leads the program with Tyee Griffith, the founding manager of the Justice Education Initiative (JEI) at the Claremont Colleges.
When Pitzer launched the program in December 2020, it became the first college in the country to transform Inside-Out curriculum, originally developed by Temple University Professor Lori Pompa, into a program that leads to a BA for incarcerated learners. In the program’s Inside-Out classes, “inside” incarcerated students at the CRC and “outside” college students from the five undergraduate Claremont Colleges (5Cs) take the same courses in the same classrooms from the same 5Cs professors, with all students being held to the exacting standards of five of the nation’s top liberal arts colleges. Pitzer’s Pathway-to-BA program is part of JEI and was developed in partnership with both the CRC and Norco College.
Pierce was selected to be one of the graduating seniors who will speak at the College’s virtual 2021 Commencement Ceremony. During the launch of the Pathway-to-BA program in December, he spoke about his older brother, who was shot and killed years before, and described what being a Pitzer student means to him and his family.
“(B)eing a Pitzer student means opportunities, both new opportunities that I had never imagined for myself, as well as recovered opportunities that I thought were long lost,” he said. “But most importantly, being a Pitzer student for me means having the opportunity to make a significant achievement in honor of my late brother and also doing something that will make my mother extremely proud.”
Cisneros will “walk” in the Class of 2021 Commencement celebration—in this year’s virtual event, Class of 2021 students will be represented digitally instead of in person.
During the launch of the Inside-Out BA program, he talked about taking a seminar on emotional development with Pitzer Professor of Psychology Mita Banerjee and the way Pitzer professors create an immersive, inclusive learning environment.
“We all get to share a classroom,” he said. “This is special because it allows for academic discussions which take into account the extensive life experiences of the inside students and unites them with a fresh point of view from the outside students. For a moment, two worlds that seem so far apart are joined together to grow and learn from one another.”
Those mutual lessons learned are not only important for a pathway to a college degree but as an entry point for a new life during and after incarceration.
“I believe Pitzer has also educated us on our new identity—from a people who at one time took from the community to a cohort who can now take the lead in finding opportunities to give back,” Cisneros said.
Pitzer’s Class of 2021 Commencement Celebration, featuring Congressperson Mondaire Jones (D-NY) as the keynote speaker, will start streaming at 10 a.m. Pacific Time at www.pitzer.edu. Visit the College’s Commencement page for additional details and viewing options. Visit Pitzer’s website for more information about the College’s groundbreaking Inside-Out Pathway-to-BA program.