Feature Profile

Staying Connected with Professor Jenifer Drew

Inspiring Students Inside and Outside of the Classroom

Professor Jenifer Drew in Plummer House

Jenifer Drew knows firsthand that a classroom environment inspires growth, whether on a leafy college campus or a gated prison compound. Lasell's associate professor of Social Science and Justice Studies is also the former long-term director of Boston University's Prison Education Program. She holds a BS in Sociology from Indiana University, and MA and PhD degrees in Sociology from BU. Drew joined the Lasell faculty in 2000; last May, she received the Thomas E. J. DeWitt Award for, Excellence in Educational Leadership.

Drew, active in the "restorative justice" movement at two state prisons, is a firm believer that "both sides learn by seeing and talking to each other." Lasell students from her Justice, Race, Gender and Class course have accompanied her to a restorative justice prisoners' study group at MCI/Norfolk; in turn, inmates who've graduated from the BU program speak to her classes on campus. The spirited scholar brought Lasell students to MCI/Framingham to research the impact of the National Education for Assistance Day Services dog training program there, generating a 2013 report, The Power of Prison Pups.

One of four siblings raised on a farm in rural Indiana, Drew lives in Jamaica Plain with her husband, attorney Steve Boris. Their daughter, Adrienne, is a theatre and opera director, enrolled in the MFA program at BU. Leaves caught up with the popular professor at her Plummer House office as she was preparing to teach a class in Report Writing for the Criminal Justice Professional.

Has prison education expanded since 1999?

The question might better be, ‘Has prison education started to recover from the 1994 elimination of federal Pell Grant eligibility for prisoners to finance their education?' The answer is ‘yes, a bit.' There is an ever-growing list of local success stories: former prison students who are now business people or working in helping professions or studying in graduate degree programs, all of whom began college while incarcerated.

Who are your heroes?

I don't have any. I like people who don't let others define them, who put their money where their mouth is. For example, rapper Mos Def-who had himself filmed for posting on YouTube while shackled to a chair and force-fed á la Guantanamo detainees. It was gruesome but heroic. I have a great deal of admiration for my husband, our daughter and for Richard, a former student who has become our dear family friend.

Night table titles?

David Sedaris' Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls; a travel guide to Cuba (in preparation for a January 2014 trip); The Battle for God by Karen Armstrong. And always, Don Miguel Ruiz's The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom/Toltec Wisdom Book and Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet.

Non-academic passions?

 I can get excited by a funky thrift shop, enjoy bourgeois (i.e., comfortable) camping and mentoring former students as they transition into professional life. I'm a pretty good interior decorator, having been a set dresser for professional theatre companies.

Guilty pleasure?

Watching the Food Network, especially Chopped.

How does connected learning impact your teaching style?

 Connected Learning and my style are one, maybe because I'm a practitioner out in the sometimes too-real universe of prisons. I could never see teaching students about justice without exposing them to the real world.

What's best about teaching here?

Lasell is remarkably free and can move at a moment's notice, seize an opportunity, say ‘yes' to a good idea without insisting on layers of bureaucracy. The College places pedagogy at the top of the list-before publishing, before celebrity, before just about everything. I feel valued as an educator. And it's nice to work at an institution that's growing.

 

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