American Sociological Association

Sociology in Action: Jane H. Yamashiro

Jane H. Yamashiro, an independent scholar, has been teaching with the Prison University Project (PUP) in San Quentin, CA since 2017. ASA asked Yamashiro about that work:

What is the mission of the Prison University Project? PUP works with Patten University to provide accredited college-level courses to people currently incarcerated at San Quentin. Inmates who graduate from the PUP/Patten program obtain an AA degree, and when they are released they can transfer to a four-year college to complete a bachelor's degree.

Could you describe your involvement? I have taught "Introduction to Sociology" in San Quentin State Prison since 2017.

What sociological knowledge and/or skills did you use? I have used my background in sociological theory and methods, race and ethnicity, and social inequality to teach a course that provides basic sociological skills and perspective, ending with a discussion about possibilities for the future through working with allies for social justice.

How did you connect with this Prison University Project? An academic who did her doctoral work at UC-Berkeley told me about the program.  Anyone interested in volunteering can check out their website.

Is there anything else you would like to share about this work? This has been the most rewarding teaching experience I've ever had --students are so appreciative of the educational opportunity and work hard despite their living conditions. It is inspiring to see them connect with the material, learning to use terms such as "normalization," "problematization," "socialization," and "structure and agency" to critically describe and analyze their backgrounds and current situations, as well as larger social issues. I hope we can find ways to fund more educational opportunities inside of prisons, as these students not only benefit from these classes, but also have so much to offer the larger society.