Justice-in-Education Scholars Program


Founded in 2015 with the generous support of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Justice-in-Education Scholars Program at Columbia University provides educational opportunities to formerly incarcerated individuals.  It currently begins with a skills-intensive gateway course: either University Writing (the standard first-year writing course required of Columbia undergraduates) or Humanities Texts, Critical Skills—a literature course, inspired by the Core Curriculum, that encourages reflection, discussion, and debate on questions about the human condition.  Both courses are open to JIE Scholars (who are nominated by former teachers and our partner organizations) as well as to all other Columbia and Barnard undergraduates.

The JIE Scholars Program covers the tuition, local travel to class, books, and other costs associated with the JIE Scholars’ ability to complete the course.  We utilize relationships with other units on campus to provide support services as needed, such as writing tutoring, academic advising, and peer mentoring. The program also assists Scholars in connecting with social and psychological services. Students who successfully complete the JIE gateway course are encouraged to work with the Justice-in-Education administration to discuss their future education plans, including in some cases taking further classes free of charge at Columbia.

Since the launch of the Justice-in-Education Initiative:

  • Humanities Texts, Critical Skills has been offered 6 times; University Writing was  offered for the first time in Summer 2018.
  • More than 60 formerly incarcerated students have earned college credit for completing one of the two JIE Scholars Program gateway courses: Humanities Texts, Critical Skills and Crafting the Academic Essay.  Many have gone on to take additional Columbia classes; some have become matriculating students at Columbia’s School of General Studies.   

The Justice-in-Education Initiative is a collaboration between the Center for Justice and Heyman Center for the Humanities, in partnership with The School of Professional Studies at Columbia University.

For general information about the program, please contact Neni Panourgia (np255@columbia.edu). If you would like to make a donation to support our work, please contact Lisette Oblitas (lo2300@columbia.edu). For questions about getting involved in other ways, please contact Lindsey Schram (ls2553@columbia.edu).


Justice-in-Edu Initiative Transforms the Lives of Prisoners

Interview with "Humanities Texts, Critical Skills," instructor Dan-el Padilla Peralta and Justice-in-Education Scholar Issac Scott

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Justice-in-Education Scholars Video Series: Lisette Oblitas

We’re pleased to share the inaugural video in a new interview series created by Justice-in-Education scholar Isaac Scott.

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Justice-in-Education Scholars Video Series: Anisah Sabur


Humanities Texts, Critical Skills

The goal of this seminar is to equip students with critical tools for approaching, reading, and striving with literary and philosophical texts—ancient as well as modern. To this end, we will be working closely with a set of texts that range in date from the 8th/7th c. BCE to the late 20th century CE. Our seminar will operate on the assumption that we cannot know “what” these texts say or “what” their authors mean unless we come to grips with how they say what they say and how they mean what they mean. In pursuit of some answers, we will master the skill of reading quickly but carefully, balancing attention to the literary craft of our texts with scrutiny of their underlying arguments and agendas. Ultimately, however, none of this will matter much if you are not convinced by term’s end of one (nowadays far from universally accepted) claim: that becoming a good reader of texts can make you a more constructive and more empowered contributor to your community and your society. It will be the instructors’ responsibility to pitch this claim to you, and your responsibility to question it.

Every week, we will pair a text with a theme and see where the pairing leads us. We have chosen the themes to orient us as we grapple with some of the key discourses structured into and perpetuated through our texts: self/Other, class/status, gender/sex, race/ethnicity. The thematic pairings are not meant to confine or limit our critical intervention; you are more than welcome to resist the thematic pairings and/or propose your own. As the term progresses, we will encourage you to apply your critical skills to scrutiny of and resistance to this syllabus. Why read these texts/authors (and not others) in this particular order? What is at stake in what and whom we choose to read?

Last Instructors / Semester
Nicole Callahan, Dan-el Padilla / Spring 2017

Past Instructors:
Anne Diebel, Emily Hainze