Family farmers, timberlands executives and forest rangers were just a few of the participants in a seminar on criminal justice led by Associate Professor of Philosophy and Paul Garrett Fellow Patrick Frierson and Senior Lecturer of Philosophy and General Studies Mitch Clearfield in November. Part of the annual AgForestry Leadership Program, an 18-month course for agriculture, forestry, fishing and other natural resources-related professionals in Washington state, the three-day seminar is one of 11 covering issues such as public policy, economics and trade, and the environment.
Whitman has hosted a class for the program since 1977, when Professor of Physics Emeritus Craig Gunsul initiated the partnership; upon his retirement, Frierson took the reins.
"This has been an outstanding way for Whitman to serve as an educational leader," Frierson said. Whitman's involvement over the past 40 years "has expanded and strengthened the connections that our faculty have to local criminal justice professionals and organizations."
Forging closer bonds with local organizations can also lead to collaborations that benefit Whitman students, he added.
The leadership program's seminars take place at institutes of higher education and leading businesses across Washington. Frierson and Clearfield's course includes presentations on all facets of the criminal justice system, from prosecution and defense to sentencing and prison life. Participants visited the Washington State Penitentiary (WSP) in Walla Walla and the Walla Walla Juvenile Justice Center.
"This seminar drove home the importance of community, civic and family leadership to break the negative cycles that lead to incarceration," said participant Nate Fulton, agribusiness specialty practice director at PayneWest Insurance in Yakima.
"With very few exceptions, inmates and offenders come from a broken family, a broken social network or a broken community," he added. "We have the opportunities as leaders to model behavior and ethics that can help lead someone who is at risk down a better path."
Clearfield emphasized that these kinds of partnerships stress Whitman's role in the region and that the seminar "was a way of extending that leadership into the community and serving a vital need to train well-informed leaders in our state."
The college's involvement with the leadership program also links to its strategic priority "to provide a Whitman education to the broadest range of the population to ensure meaningful and effective participation in democracy," according to Frierson.
In addition to the AgForestry course, Clearfield teaches a class on Punishment and Responsibility that includes a tour of WSP, while in recent years, other faculty members have led classes there or incorporated the penitentiary into their academic work. These include Gregory M. Cowan Professor in English Language & Literature Theresa DiPasquale's course on Shakespeare, Assistant Professor of Rhetoric Studies Heather Hayes's class on civic engagement and incarceration, Associate Professor of English Scott Elliott's creative writing classes and Laura and Carl Peterson Endowed Chair of Social Sciences Keith Farrington's sociological analyses of WSP's relationship to Walla Walla.