BMCC Symposium Highlights Educational Opportunity for Justice-Involved Students

May 9, 2019

More than 100 attendees gathered for the Re-Entry/Entry Symposium, Pedagogy, Programs and Policies that Support and Sustain Justice-Involved CUNY Students on May 3 at the Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY) Fiterman Conference Center.

The day-long event was sponsored by BMCC along with the University Faculty Senate’s Committee on Higher Education in Prisons, and was made possible by a grant from Trinity Church Wall Street. Participants shared research, best practices, knowledge and experiences.

“In this room, we have an extraordinary brain trust — you are the experts — because you are committed to social justice and criminal justice reform, because you have witnessed, in your classes, that spark, that light, that intensity that justice involved students bring to the classroom, or you have helped to connect justice involved clients with the resources they need to survive and then thrive,” said BMCC Human Services Professor Lisa H. Rose, who organized the symposium and welcomed the attendees.

Other speakers included Ann Jacobs, Director of the John Jay College Prisoner Reentry Institute; Jessica Jensen, Director of Statewide Educational Initiatives, Tommasina Faratro, Special Projects Coordinator of the Prisoner Reentry Institute at John Jay College of Criminal Justice; Emily Tai, Chair of the University Faculty Senate’s Committee on Higher Education in Prisons; Joni Schwartz, LaGuardia Community College professor and filmmaker whose documentary, Counterstory: After Incarceration was screened at the symposium; John Chaney, a lecturer at La Guardia Community College and former administrator at the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office and Scott E. Evenbeck, president of Guttman Community College.

Attendees included faculty, staff, students and alumni from BMCC as well as from John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Lehman College, Bronx Community College, Queens Community College, City College of New York, Guttman Community College, LaGuardia Community College, Brooklyn College, Hunter College, Murphy School of Labor, the CUNY Graduate Center, Rutgers University and others. Participating CBOs including Safe Horizons, Fortune Society and Hour Children.

Keynote speakers share their experience from justice-involvement to advancement and advocacy

Morning and afternoon breakout sessions at the symposium addressed a myriad of issues facing justice-involved students and the educators, staff and policy makers who serve them.

Topics included challenging the stigma associated with justice involvement, creating community, thriving while overcoming barriers, rehabilitation, reimagining the future and the benefits of including poetry in the correctional facility classroom.

A lunchtime panel featured three distinguished guests who leveraged their justice-involved experiences to help others moving from incarceration to college and careers.

These included Reginald Dwayne Betts, Yale Law School graduate and author of A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison. Betts, who went from being an honors student in gifted programs to spending more than eight years in prison — where he began reading and writing poetry — has also authored poetry collections including Bastards of the Reagan Era, which won the PEN New England award.

Christopher Beasley, a psychologist and professor of community psychology at the University of Washington, has led research focusing on the psychological and social influences on the prison-to-college transition process. Beasley also co-founded the Formerly Incarcerated College Graduates Network, a national organization of people with college degrees who have been to prison, and whose collective community promotes the education and empowerment of formerly incarcerated individuals.

Jim St. Germain, an alumnus of BMCC (Human Services, ’09), went on to earn a bachelor of arts degree in political science from John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY where he is currently pursuing a Masters in Public and Nonprofit Management and Policy. Germain, who authored the critically acclaimed memoir, A Stone of Hope, is also founder of Preparing Leaders of Tomorrow (PLOT), a mentoring organization for at-risk youth.

“Some of us are in prison before we even get there,” said St. Germain, who outlined the strides toward education he took, eventually serving as an advisor with countless local, state and federal officials on matters related to juvenile justice, mentoring, mental health, substance abuse and educational issues.

Project Impact: BMCC ramps up efforts to serve justice-involved students

The Reentry symposium of May 3 is part of ongoing efforts at BMCC to serve justice-involved students.

According to Rose, the impetus for the symposium took place at BMCC in March 2017, when she convened a meeting to start discussions of a concerted, supportive response to the needs of justice-involved students.

“That meeting included supporters from BMCC — Tommasina Faratro of PRI; Janice Zummo, assistant dean for academic support services; John Sutter, BMCC Foundation board member and others — who jumped right in and we formed the Reentry Interest Group or RIG,” Rose says.

From there, Project Impact was established to serve students with a history of criminal justice involvement and others seeking education and career opportunities.

“With the help of Brian Haller in the BMCC Office of College Development, I established a relationship with Trinity Church Wall Street and their Director of Justice and Reconciliation Grants,” says Rose. “We first met in Spring 2018 to discuss a grant to research the scope of the issue, to provide a series of faculty and staff development seminars, and to produce a CUNY-wide conference around the issue. Emily Tai, along with Trinity Church Wall Street, has been an invaluable partner, and that’s how we got here.”

Today, Project Impact at BMCC seeks to identify justice-involved students who are enrolled in an associate degree program at the college, or who are seeking to earn a High School Equivalency (HSE) program and then enroll at BMCC.

The students — many of whom have been recently released from prison or involved in the justice system in other ways — will have access to peer mentoring, tutoring, counseling, career development and other resources. Most importantly, they will belong to a small cohort and close community of support.

Project Impact has received a foundation grant from the Pinkerton Foundation as well as grants from the BMCC Foundation, the Black Male Initiative (BMI) and CUNY, totaling $200,000.  The project is seeking additional funds to support and expand the program through the end of 2020. Eventually, the program could be replicated across CUNY, providing students with the education, support and skills they need for a second chance at success.


  • BMCC — along with the University Faculty Senate’s Committee on Higher Education in Prisons — hosts symposium on justice-involved students, made possible by a grant from Trinity Church Wall Street
  • More than 100 attendees shared research, best practices and experiences to support justice-involved (formerly incarcerated) college students
  • Programs to serve justice-involved students at BMCC include Project Impact

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