Editor’s Note: This post was written and submitted by Jessica Supinski, advisor of the Beta Phi Delta Chapter at Renton Technical College in Washington.
In October, I attended the chapter chartering and new member induction ceremony of the Beta Chi Xi Chapter in Walla Walla, Washington. As a member and active alumna of Phi Theta Kappa for more than 20 years, I have attended many ceremonies like this. But this one was different.
The new members about to be inducted were Walla Walla Community College students currently incarcerated at the Washington State Penitentiary.
As we prepared for the ceremony to begin, I tried to sense the energy in the room. There was the energy of hope and a collective sense of accomplishment, just like new member induction ceremonies at my college or yours. There was a connectedness among the members, just like the connectedness we feel with members in our own chapters. Yet, there was pensive energy as we all held the tension of celebrating academic achievement in a space of inherent restriction.
For many years, Phi Theta Kappa membership was not accessible for two-year college students who were incarcerated or recently released. In 2017, membership eligibility requirements changed, and these students are now invited to join Phi Theta Kappa. This change is an act of justice.
I did not know the individual actions of these students that resulted in their incarceration, nor did I know how the complexities of this nation’s justice system had impacted their circumstances. What I did know was that we were all members of Phi Theta Kappa. What I did know was that we shared a collective reverence for academic achievement and self-development.
In my remarks during the ceremony, I shared that as a member of Phi Theta Kappa, I learned how to think, how to live with integrity, and how to love others. We reflected on how they have already learned these same things with each other, and how they will continue to act in service to this learning when they come back to our communities.
I share my reflections of this experience purposefully with members and advisors of Phi Theta Kappa, because I want you to do what I did. Open your mind and heart to incarcerated students who are eligible to join your chapter.
Recognize that bias and stigma exist, and then move past this to listen and learn. Welcome them.
Ask your registrar to identify these students, and reach out to Phi Theta Kappa’s Membership Services team to assist with sending invites.
Explore ways to secure funding for membership fees, and research the logistics of how someone from your chapter can attend the induction ceremony.
In Phi Theta Kappa, we find a sense of belonging and support. In Phi Theta Kappa, we are accountable to each other, and we are part of something larger than ourselves. Everyone needs this. Share this with students who are currently incarcerated, for to recognize this part of our shared humanity is true justice.