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      Widener Nursing Students and Inmates Become Classmates

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      Widener nursing students attended a class this semester at the State Correctional Institution in Chester.

      Widener School of Nursing students had a unique opportunity to learn alongside some unlikely classmates this semester.

      A senior nursing elective was convened as an Inside-Out course on social justice and advocacy. That means the class was held at the State Correctional Institution in Chester, and the 14 "outside" nursing students from Widener were classmates alongside 12 "inside" incarcerated men. The inside students were a mix of inmates serving life sentences and inmates preparing for re-entry to society.

      Assistant Professor Brenda G. Kucirka instructed the class with Doris Vallone, an adjunct professor. It emphasized the development of self-advocacy skills and self-expression. Students explored issues in social justice through the lens of privilege and oppression.

      The class was part of the wider Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, an international effort that aims to create dynamic partnerships between institutions of higher learning and correctional systems, to deepen conversations and transform approaches to understanding crime, justice, freedom, and inequality.

      Kucirka completed training through the program to serve as a class instructor. It was her first time teaching an Inside-Out course, and the first time Widener offered one exclusively for nursing students.

      "I have a real passion for social justice," said Kucirka. "The nursing code of ethics calls for us to be active in social justice and change agents who should be advocating for people. To me, it seemed like a perfect fit."

      Widener President Julie E. Wollman spoke at the closing ceremony for the class. She told the outside students the privilege of their education creates a responsibility to reach out and address oppression and inequity. She told the inside students they were model teachers for the future nurses.

      "They will never forget what they have learned from you, and you will make them much better at their jobs of advancing physical and mental health for all," she said.

      Students raved about the class as a transformative experience.

      "I have grown more in this class than I have in all of my conventional classes put together," Qiang Lam said. "The ideology that all individuals that are incarcerated are terrible, uneducated, inhuman beings is a gross misconception. This way of thinking is no better than assuming a person's character based off their skin color, religious beliefs, and sex. This course provided me with a form of education for the soul."

      Fellow student Rachel Sharpley said the experience taught her to be accepting of people with different backgrounds and life experiences who made mistakes.

      "I will treat one patient as I treat the next, regardless of their race, gender, religion, socioeconomic status, and past history. And each time I catch myself becoming judgmental, as it is human nature to do, I will remember my experience in the Inside-Out course and tap into the empathy I have," she said.


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