Profile of a FWIS: Racism, Colorblindness, and the Prison Industrial Complex


FWIS 100: Racism, Colorblindness, and the Prison Industrial Complex

An interview with Alexander Adkins, Instructor

What do you think is interesting/distinctive about this FWIS course?
Sometimes, university-level courses deal in very esoteric topics. And that’s not only perfectly fine, but very desirable (one of the benefits of going to college, after all, is the opportunity to study and develop skills in subjects that are valuable and interesting but often ignored by the working world). So what’s interesting about this course is that it melds together what might seem like esoteric intellectual and college-level material—past and current ideas surrounding racism, criminology, and the War on Drugs—with the most visible social movement in the US today: Black Lives Matter. I think this makes the course very exciting and relevant for incoming students who may or may not have pre-existing ideas about these issues, and who are interested in thinking this stuff through an academic lens (all the while learning to become better thinkers, communicators, and writers in the process).

What, specifically, are you excited about teaching in your FWIS this semester?
I’m really excited to show students documentaries about prison and the prison industry—especially the ones that have sparked a lot of recent interest in these subjects. Documentaries such as The House I Live In and Narco Cultura invite us to take a peek inside social worlds and problems some of us never knew existed. This, in turn, allows us to think, speak, and write about issues that impact all of us in palpable but also invisible ways. I’m also excited for students to read the work of Michelle Alexander and Cornel West—public intellectuals who have a lot of interesting and controversial ideas about imprisonment. Their ideas often provoke intense discussion among anyone involved. This course will tap into precisely those forms of discussion.

What advice do you have for first-year students (about FWIS or their first semester in general)?
College is such a special place. So much so that I think students should never hold back from getting as much out of it as they can. This might mean making friends with people from backgrounds different than their own. Or it might mean taking classes and pursuing interests that lie outside their comfort zone or experience. Regardless, students should see college as a place to take chances both personally and intellectually. Mentors and professors can be very helpful in this regard, so I would encourage students to reach out to their instructors as much as possible.