We Are All Directly Impacted: Mapping Societal Wellness, Institutions, and Self

By Mount Tamalpais College | February 28, 2020

3/10/2020 UPDATE: Due to the threat of COVID-19, the academic conference has been postponed. Please check back for more information soon.

The Prison University Project will host its second academic conference at San Quentin State Prison on April 17, 2020, from 8AM-3PM. The conference, conceived and planned by a committee of Prison University Project students and staff, will involve panels of incarcerated and nonincarcerated scholars. Our conference in 2018 demonstrated the influential perspective shifts that can occur when different communities contribute to dialog around central debates, and we are excited to continue the conversations.

This year, our theme is “We Are All Directly Impacted: Mapping Societal Wellness, Institutions, and Self.” Starting with the observation that both self and institution are socially constructed, our conference aims to explore the ways in which pathways to reaching our individual full potential intersect and conflict with the various social contracts and norms that we are born into. Some institutions, like marriage, effectively create more rights for many participants, while others, like prison, purport to create a safer society by denying rights to those people within its confines. In a similar vein, some institutions like higher education are exclusive to varying degrees, while others, like gender, are largely assigned at birth and difficult to opt out of. At various times throughout the history of this nation, the freedom to drink alcohol, love or marry whom one wants, have various medical procedures, and travel freely, have been deemed detrimental to a healthy society, at the expense of personal wellness. Conversely, institutions that perform policing, military operations, border control, and health or education are considered by many to be essential to our personal wellness.

We will discuss these topics and more at our conference:

  • What is wellness? Is it possible in the context of institutions?
  • How do the individual and the institution intersect?
  • What roles can institutions play in helping individuals reach their full potential?
  • What institutions are missing from our society?
  • What are some empirical indicators of societal wellness? How could these indicators be improved?
  • What are pathways for people with different political ideologies or identities to dialog more effectively?
  • How do wellness and freedom play out across societal structures, identities, and communities?
  • How do different social ways of being affect personal wellness?
  • What roles can or should individuals play to help systems or institutions reach their full potential?
  • How should society respond to people who don’t conform to our institutions or norms?
  • How can institutions of education be reimagined to help more people reach their full potential?

The Prison University Project has been running a college for people incarcerated at San Quentin State Prison since 1996. We run twenty classes each semester and have over 700 active students. The mission of the Prison University Project is to provide an intellectually rigorous, inclusive Associate of Arts degree program and college preparatory program, free of charge, to people at San Quentin State Prison; to expand access to quality higher education for incarcerated people; and to foster the values of equity, civic engagement, independence of thought, and freedom of expression.

Unfortunately, it won’t be possible to have non-presenters attend the conference because of severe space limitations. Please send any questions to

For more info on last year’s conference, see our news post, “San Quentin’s First Academic Conference: “Corrections, Rehabilitation, and Reform—21st Century Solutions for 20th Century Problems.”

Please note that the Prison University Project became Mount Tamalpais College in September 2020.