John B. Hurford '60 Center for the Arts and Humanities

Imagining Abolitionist Futures: The Symposium

March 23-24, 2023

This symposium gathers scholars, artists, activists, and educators who share a common goal: dismantling the carceral state and ending the direct and indirect violence it inflicts every day, especially on our most vulnerable communities.

Over the course of a day and a half, they will prompt both one another and symposium attendees to consider the roles that the arts and humanities can play in this ongoing struggle. Discussion topics will include: art and music by and about incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people; historical and archival research, Black study, counter memory, and the meaning of abolition; feminist and LGBTQ anticarceral expression and movements; abolitionist pedagogy and the position of the university; cultural institutions and the distribution of resources that maintain or disrupt the carceral state; and the COVID pandemic’s ongoing disparate effects on incarcerated people.

Sponsored by the John B. Hurford ’60 Center for the Arts and Humanities and the Offices of the President and the Provost at Haverford College.

Attendance and Tickets


Thursday, March 23, 2023
VCAM Screening Room

    • 5:00 p.m.
    • Keynote address by Nicole Fleetwood

Friday, March 24, 2023
VCAM 201

    • 10:00 a.m. - 11:15 a.m.
    • Panel 1: Art, Music, Community Engagement

      What role do the arts play in forming and engaging communities, both inside and outside prisons, and across incarcerated and nonincarcerated lives? How can they reimagine carceral geographies? What roles do Black and Latinx radical traditions (of art, theory, politics) play in the formation of what Nicole Fleetwood calls “carceral aesthetics”?

      Participants include Akeil Robertson, Mark Menjívar, and BL Shirelle

    • 11:30 a.m. - 12:45 p.m.
    • Panel 2: Feminist and LGBTQ+ Perspectives

      How is abolition a feminist and/or queer issue? What insights from those feminist and queer lives and thought are energizing visual art, literature, and critical theory within an abolitionist framework?

      Participants include Stephanie Keene, People’s Paper Co-op, and Ruby C. Tapia

    • 12:45 p.m. - 2:00 p.m.
    • Lunch Break
    • 2:00 p.m. - 3:15 p.m.
    • Panel 3: Academia, Pedagogy, Activism

      What role can the classroom play in abolitionist struggle? What opportunities does the college/university present, and what does it mute or shut down? How should an abolitionist pedagogy engage with, and critique, the traditional distinctions between disciplines? What are the challenges of using the university as a space for abolitionist research and teaching?

      Participants include Sarah Haley, Dylan Rodríguez, and SALT

    • 3:15 p.m. - 4:45 p.m.
    • Panel 4:Wrap-Up Session facilitated by Stephanie Keene


Nicole R. Fleetwood

Nicole R. Fleetwood is the inaugural James Weldon Johnson Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication in the Steinhardt School at New York University. A MacArthur Fellow, she is a writer, curator, and art critic whose interests are contemporary Black diasporic art and visual culture, photography studies, art and public practice, performance studies, gender and feminist studies, Black cultural history, creative nonfiction, prison abolition and carceral studies, and poverty studies. She is the author Marking Time: Art in the Age of Mass Incarceration (Harvard University Press, 2020), winner of the National Book Critics Award in Criticism, the John Hope Franklin Publication Prize of the American Studies Association, the Susanne M. Glasscock Humanities Book Prize for Interdisciplinary Scholarship, and both the Charles Rufus Morey Book Award in art history and the Frank Jewett Mather Award in art criticism. She is also the curator of the traveling exhibition, Marking Time: Art in the Era of Mass Incarceration, which debuted at MoMA PS1 (September 17, 2020-April 5, 2021). The exhibition was listed as “one of the most important art moments in 2020” by The New York Times and among the best shows of the year by The New Yorker and Hyperallergic.

Her other books are On Racial Icons: Blackness and the Public Imagination (Rutgers University Press, 2015), and Troubling Vision: Performance, Visuality, and Blackness (University of Chicago Press, 2011), which was the recipient of the 2012 Lora Romero First Book Publication Prize of the American Studies Association. Fleetwood is also co-editor of Aperture magazine’s “Prison Nation” issue, which focuses on photography’s role in documenting mass incarceration. She is a series associate editor of the ten-volume series, Gender: Macmillan Interdisciplinary Handbooks. With Sarah Tobias, she co-edited “The New Status Quo: Essays on Poverty in the United States and Beyond,” a special issue of Feminist Formations (Spring 2021). Her writing appears in African American Review, American Quarterly, Aperture, Artforum, Callaloo: Art and Culture in the African Diaspora, Granta, Hyperallergic, LitHub, The New York Times, Public Books, Public Culture, Signs, Social Text, art catalogues, and edited anthologies.

Fleetwood has co/curated exhibitions and public programs on art and mass incarceration at MoMA PS1, Zimmerli Museum of Art, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Abroms-Engel Institute for the Visual Arts at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Andrew Freedman Home, Aperture, Cleveland Public Library, Mural Arts Philadelphia, Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site, and Worth Rises. She is the inaugural Genevieve Young Writing Fellow of the Gordon Parks Foundation. Her work has been supported by Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center, American Council of Learned Societies, the Art for Justice Fund, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers of the New York Public Library, Whiting Foundation, NJ Council for the Humanities, Schomburg Center for Research on Black Culture, Ford Foundation, Puffin Foundation, and Denniston Hill Residency.

She is represented by Janklow & Nesbit and is finishing a nonfiction book titled Between the River and Railroad Tracks that will be published by Little, Brown.

Sarah Haley

Sarah Haley’s research areas include U.S. gender history, carceral history, Black feminist and queer theory, prison abolition, and feminist historical methods. She is the author of No Mercy Here: Gender, Punishment, and the Making of Jim Crow Modernity, which was selected for the 2020 National Book Foundation’s Literature for Justice Reading List. In 2022 She was named a Marguerite Casey Foundation Freedom Scholar. Her writing has appeared in journals including Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, The Journal of African American History, GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, Souls, and Women & Performance. She is working on a book titled The Carceral Interior: A Black Feminist Study of American Punishment, 1966-2016. She is associate professor of gender studies and history at Columbia University and has been active in prison abolition, gender justice, and labor movements. She currently organizes with Scholars for Social Justice.

Mark Menjívar

Mark Menjívar is a San Antonio based artist and Associate Professor in the School of Art and Design at Texas State University. His art practice primarily consists of creating participatory projects while being rooted in photography, oral history, archives, and social action. He attended McLennan Community College, holds a BA in Social Work from Baylor University and an MFA in Social Practice from Portland State University.

Mark has engaged in projects at venues including the Rothko Chapel, Eastern State Penitentiary, the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art, The Houston Center for Photography, The Puerto Rican Museum of Art and Culture, Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum and the Krannert Art Museum.

He has partnered on projects with many community organizations including San Anto Cultural Arts, Bloom Project, Black Outside, Mitchell Lake Audubon Center, CAST Schools, Libraries Without Borders, and the H. E. Butt Foundation.

Mark is the artist-in-residence with the Texas After Violence Project, a public memory archive that fosters deeper understandings of the impacts of state violence.. He is also a member of Borderland Collective, which utilizes collaborations between artists, educators, youth, and community members to engage complex issues and build space for diverse perspectives, meaningful dialogue, and modes of creation around border issues.

People’s Paper Co-op

Founded in 2014, the People’s Paper Co-op is a women led, women focused, women powered art and advocacy project at The Village of Arts and Humanities in North Philadelphia. The PPC looks to women in reentry as the leading criminal justice experts our society needs to hear from and uses a variety of art forms to amplify their stories, dreams, and visions for a more just and free world.

Since 2018, the People’s Paper Co-op has collaborated with the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund on their annual Black Mama's Bail Out campaign. Each year, the PPC connects a powerful cohort of women in reentry with artists and advocates to co-create a poster series and corresponding set of exhibitions, parades, press conferences, and events to raise awareness and funds for the campaign. Their posters, prints, and t-shirt sales have raised over $200,000 to free Black mothers and caregivers.

The collaborative work has reached hundreds of thousands of viewers through interactive public art campaigns and a diverse array of exhibitions (from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, City Hall, to detention centers, church basement legal clinics, billboards, and guerrilla wheat paste murals). Their work has been featured by big and small publications, including but not limited to New York Times, BBC, Refinery 29, Philadelphia Inquirer, and NPR.

Dylan Rodríguez

Dylan Rodríguez is a teacher, scholar, organizer and collaborator who has maintained a day job as a Professor at the University of California-Riverside since 2001. He is a faculty member of the Department of Media and Cultural Studies as well as the newly created Department of Black Study. Dylan was elected President of the American Studies Association by his peers in 2020, the same year in which he was named to the inaugural class of Freedom Scholars.

Dylan’s lifework focuses on liberationist, anticolonial, and abolitionist confrontations with the antiblack, colonial, and white supremacist violences that permeate the ongoing Civilization project. He is devoted to studying and teaching the historical, collective genius of rebellion, survival, and insurgent futurity that radically challenge dominant forms of authority, power, and institutionality.

Since the late-1990s, he has participated as a founding member of organizations like Critical Resistance, the Abolition Collective, Critical Ethnic Studies Association, Cops Off Campus, Scholars for Social Justice, and Blackness Unbound, among others. Dylan is the author of three books, most recently White Reconstruction: Domestic Warfare and the Logic of Racial Genocide (Fordham University Press, 2021), which won the 2022 Frantz Fanon Book Award from the Caribbean Philosophical Association.

Dylan appreciates participating in all forms of collective study, thought, and planning that build capacities to survive and revolt against oppressive conditions.

Akeil Robertson-Jowers

Akeil Robertson-Jowers is an artist, educator, curator, student, returning citizen, and active member of the reentry community. Akeil is an ambassador and a skilled communicator able to bridge the gap between disparate peoples.. His unique position as both an insider and critic gives him the ability to offer opinions and insights not previously gleaned. Akeil is an multimedia artist, able to extend those skills to all he comes in contact with and uses these skills to create maps, prose, and bridges toward new thoughts and practices in criminal justice thinking and solutions.

Akeil’s practice is based and steeped in an idea that critical thinking is central to the way forward. Shying away from easy answers or binaries that separate and divide our communities on opposite sides of a restorative justice framework, in his work and scholarship Akeil seeks to take an honest look the intersections we all share and help us form bonds that encourage the will remove barriers in our ability to find common ground.

Akeil has been a partner in several projects including the Inaugural Philadelphia District Attorney Office Artists in Residency, Reading Work and Art For Justice Led Collaborative Web Project to forward Abolition Studies, and Assistant Muralist of Several Years. He is currently Artist in Residence at the Haverford College Hurford Center Visual, Cultural, and Media Studies.

Akeil's primary mode of Artistry is photography and he uses his camera to focus on and exalt humanity in a vision that we all deserve to celebrate as the heroes we are in our own right.

Ruby C. Tapia

Ruby C. Tapia is Chair and Associate Professor in the Department of Women's and Gender Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Her work engages the intersections of photography theory, feminist and critical race theory, and critical prison studies. She is co-editor of Interrupted Life: Experiences of Incarcerated Women in the United States (University of California, 2010), co-editor of the University of California book series Reproductive Justice: New Visions for the 21st Century, and author of American Pietàs: Visions of Race, Death and the Maternal (University of Minnesota, 2011). Her current book project, The Camera in the Cage (forthcoming, Fordham University Press), interrogates the intersections of prison photography and carceral humanism and puts forth an argument and methodology for abolitionist aesthetics. Her courses include "Carceral Visualities,” "Gender, Race, and Incarceration," and "The Prison in Literature, Photography, and the Moving Image." She has facilitated creative writing workshops via the Prison Creative Arts Project at Women's Huron Valley Correctional Facility in Michigan, is a member of the Theory Group Think Tank at Macomb Correctional Facility for men, and is the lead faculty member of the Critical Carceral Visualities component of the Carceral State Project at the University of Michigan. You can read some of her recent creative non-fiction work in Avidly: a channel of the Los Angeles Review of Books: "'Never Been a Scared Bitch'": On the Play of the Fight and 'Bruised' Notions of Gender, Violence, and Necessity" and "What I Was Looking for Was Green."

BL Shirelle

Person reclined in a chair holding a large brimmed hat with a city building visiable through a window

BL Shirelle is the Co-Executive Director of Die Jim Crow Records, the first non-profit record label for currently and formerly incarcerated artists in United States history. She is also a phenomenal songwriter/rapper, producer and justice-impacted artist herself, raising up her community and sharing her art and activism with the world.

Her label debut solo album Assata Troi, which she also executive produced, garnered critical acclaim from Los Angeles Times, Pitchfork, NPR, Passion of Weiss, BBC, Interview Magazine, and Philadelphia Inquirer, among others. Assata Troi is an epic fusion of hard-hitting poetry, rap, and r&b with a gritty rock edge.

BL Shirelle has been a guest speaker at Augustana University, Stockton University, Goucher University, and Susquehanna University and is a teacher assistant at Yale Divinity School of Music and Wesleyan University. She has performed at MoMA PS 1 and at DJC virtual performances during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic to raise funds for PPE Into Prisons alongside such acts as DIIV, Eve 6, Hurray For The Riff Raff and Shamir, among others.


Stephanie Keene

Close shot of woman smiling looking to her left in orange shirt in front of a plant

Stephanie D. Keene is a Philadelphia-based educator, creator, and organizer. Her justice work focuses on abolition (including but not limited to the prison industrial complex). A proud graduate of the first HBCU, Lincoln University, she is working for the freedom of all people.

Gustavus Stadler

Close shot of man wearing glasses looking directly at camera in front of wall with wood slats

Gustavus Stadler is William R. Kenan Professor of English and Director of the Hurford Center for the Arts and Humanities at Haverford College. His writing and research are concerned with the cultural history of the U. S. left.