Annual Building Bridges Conference to Focus on Mass Incarceration

Posted on February 20th, 2013 by

Building Bridges 2013

*Access the live stream of today’s keynote addresses here.

Gustavus Adolphus College will host its 18th annual student-led Building Bridges Conference on Saturday, March 9. This year’s conference, “Sentenced for Life: Confronting the Calamity of Mass Incarceration,” will provide attendees the opportunity to engage in dialogue about the often quiet issue of injustice in the American prison system.

“We are trying to give a voice to a population that is otherwise voiceless: to join in the movement and help expand it, and fight for the people that many would not be willing to fight for because of the stigma,” said Building Bridges Co-Chair and Gustavus senior Jasmine Porter.

This year’s keynote speakers include scholar and political activist Dr. Angela Davis and Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, activist, political commentator, and one of the country’s leading hip-hop generation intellectuals.

Davis’ political activism began at a young age in Birmingham, Alabama and continued through her high school years in New York. It was not until 1969 that she came to national attention after being removed from her teaching position in the Philosophy Department at UCLA as a result of her social activism and her membership in the Communist Party, USA. In 1970, she was placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List on false charges, and was the subject of an intense police search that drove her underground and culminated in one of the most famous trials in recent U.S. history. During her sixteen-month incarceration, a massive international “Free Angela Davis” campaign was organized, leading to her acquittal in 1972.

Davis’ long-standing commitment to prisoners’ rights dates back to her involvement in the campaign to free the Soledad Brothers, which led to her own arrest and imprisonment. Today she remains an advocate of prison abolition and has developed a powerful critique of racism in the criminal justice system. She is a founding member of Critical Resistance, a national organization dedicated to the dismantling of the prison industrial complex. Like many educators, Davis is especially concerned with the general tendency to devote more resources and attention to the prison system than to educational institutions.

Angela Davis

Angela Davis

Davis is now a Distinguished Professor Emerita at the University of California-Santa Cruz, where she previously taught in the History of Consciousness and Feminist Studies departments. She has lectured in all fifty United States, as well as in Africa, Europe, the Caribbean, and the former Soviet Union. She has also written nine books, including Abolition Democracy and Are Prisons Obsolete?, and is currently working on a new book, Prisons and American History.

Hill has been an Associate Professor of Education at Teachers College at Columbia University since 2009, and holds an affiliated faculty appointment in African American Studies at the Institute for Research in African American Studies at Columbia University. He has written several books and manuscripts including Beats, Rhymes, and Classroom Life: Hip-Hop Pedagogy and the Politics of Identity and First Class Jails/Second Class Schools: Black Youth in the Age of Incarceration.

Hill regularly provides commentary for media outlets such as NPR, Washington Post, Essence Magazine, and The New York Times, and is the host of the television show “Our World with Black Enterprise.” He also provides commentary for CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News Channel.

In addition to the keynote speakers, attendees will have the opportunity to attend multiple workshop sessions during the afternoon. The workshops will cover topics such as women in prisons, juvenile justice, private prisons, Minnesota law regarding mass incarceration, immigration detention centers, and health care.

An action piece will accompany the workshops, where attendees will explore the issue of reentry and all of the obstacles and challenges people face when leaving the prison system with the label of being a felon.

“This issue is affected by and affects many areas such as education, poverty, and jobs. It affects so many parts of our lives that we do not see it, and if we continue not seeing, it implicitly lets mass incarceration continue,” said Building Bridges Co-Chair and Gustavus junior Rebecca Eastwood.

Marc Lamont Hill

Marc Lamont Hill

“It is at its tipping point. If we do not start talking about it, nothing will get done. It is a fine line: we can either address it and do something, or let it continue and spread its roots even further and become an issue we cannot do anything about,” Porter said. “The issue of mass incarceration is confusing and multi-faceted, but one of the biggest points of confusion comes from the idea that people think we are fighting on behalf of murderers, serial killers, and rapists. But mass incarceration is incarcerating people for nonviolent offenses, and some are locked away for things that people even here on campus are doing,” Porter said.

The goal of the conference is to inspire conversation around the issue of mass incarceration, as it is not something many people talk about, nor is it the subject of many policy debates. The idea is to put the issue into the sphere of social justice topics that people generally talk about.

“We are hoping that with a conference of this size, we can open up dialogue on the issue and give a voice to this population,” Eastwood said.

The full schedule for the day is as follows:

  • 9 a.m. / Registration / C. Charles Jackson Campus Center
  • 9:30 a.m. / Opening remarks by Co-Chairs; “I Am We Are” social justice theater performance / Christ Chapel
  • 10 a.m. / Keynote address by Dr. Angela Davis / Christ Chapel
  • 11:30 a.m. / Lunch Break
  • 12:15 p.m. / Keynote address by Dr. Marc Lamont Hill / Alumni Hall
  • 1 p.m. / Speaker Panel and Workshop Session followed by Q&A with Angela Davis and Marc Lamont Hill / Alumni Hall
  • 2 p.m. / Workshop Session / Jackson Campus Center
  • 3 p.m. / Workshop Session and Action Piece / Jackson Campus Center/Beck Hall
  • 4 p.m. / Workshop Session and Action Piece / Jackson Campus Center/Beck Hall

The conference is open to the public, but tickets are required and may be purchased in advance at Tickets are $10 per person, but are complimentary for college students, high school students, and Gustavus students, faculty, and staff with a valid I.D. For more information, visit the conference website at or contact the Gustavus Diversity Center at 507-933-7449.

Building Bridges is a student-led, student-initiated diversity conference dedicated to addressing today’s pressing social and global issues. The conference works to increase awareness and action, promoting mutual respect and understanding about diversity. These aims are achieved through inspirational speakers supplemented by interactive workshops and action steps.


Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication Luc Hatlestad


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