Faculty Profile: Hilary Binda
Recounting her "awakening" to the realities and horrors of mass incarceration in the United States, Dr. Hilary Binda thinks back to her time as a high school English teacher in Rhode Island, where she taught students who were in and out of prison. Teaching with the shadow of the carceral state looming over her classes made it impossible for Dr. Binda to ignore the harsh reality of the US prison system. Now, the Founding Director of the Tufts University Prison Initiative at Tisch College (TUPIT), Dr. Binda has dedicated herself to the intersection of education and true criminal justice.
Currently operating within the medium and maximum security prisons in Shirley, Massachusetts, TUPIT seeks to increase collaboration between Tufts students and faculty, incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people, correctional staff, educators, and activists to facilitate creative responses to problems with the system of mass incarceration. The initiative is widespread, and includes twelve upcoming courses taught to imprisoned people, an in-prison weekly Tufts faculty lecture series, and events at Tufts on a variety of prison-related topics. Her favorite example is a collaboration with S-Factor, Tufts' all-male a cappella group specializing in songs of the African diaspora. S-Factor is working with a group of prisoners to develop a Tufts Shirley choir that will perform at the end of the semester. Another group of students is dedicated to collaborating with incarcerated individuals on an arts journal, and another is in the process of forming a debate team.
For Tufts students interested in learning more about structural inequalities in prison, Dr. Binda teaches a class called Mass Incarceration and the Literature of Confinement, where ten Tufts students go to the prison at Shirley to take a class with ten incarcerated individuals. Looking back on the fall semester, Dr. Binda was thrilled over the ease with which everyone could learn from one another.
Fortunately, this is just the beginning—the class will run again during the spring semester and summer session. As someone with incarcerated family members, this part of my interview pulled at all my emotions; I was upset over the realities of the carceral state, yet encouraged that initiatives like TUPIT exist.
On top of her TUPIT work, Dr. Binda is also the Director of the Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program at Tufts and a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Visual and Critical Studies at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts (SMFA). Still, she cannot separate this work from TUPIT, knowing that prison itself is a radically gendered environment, and that visual studies, writing, and literature offer critical opportunities for prison education. Talking to Dr. Binda for merely an hour, one can tell that her passions for justice permeates her life, and she inspires Tufts students with those same passions.