Feature | 4 May 2023

THI Undergraduate Public Fellow Maddison Hwang partners with Open Campus to explore higher education reporting and prison education


Left: Maddison Hwang; Right: Charlotte West

This year, The Humanities Institute is supporting Maddison Hwang through our Public Fellows Program to work with Open Campus, a nonprofit newsroom dedicated to elevating reporting on higher education across the country. Hwang has been working closely with mentor Charlotte West, who covers prison education as a national reporter at Open Campus. West also writes a biweekly newsletter, College Inside, that is distributed via email as well as a print version for inside readers. Hwang, an education major with minors in Latin American and Latino Studies, History of Consciousness, and Philosophy, has been working under West’s mentorship to build skills in journalism, communications, and gain exposure to the world of nonprofit journalism.

Hwang has become an integral part of the Open Campus team, helping to manage the distribution of College Inside; facilitating correspondence with people who are incarcerated; transcribing newsletter submissions from incarcerated writers; and contributing research and writing for Open Campus. For Hwang, the opportunity to expand their academic studies at an organization whose values aligned with theirs made the internship feel like “the perfect fit.” As an education major, Hwang was especially excited about the chance to learn more about prison education, and to experience the concepts they had been learning about in the classroom in real-world contexts: “I’ve learned a lot about education [at Open Campus] that I haven’t learned about in my major. Especially having to do with education in prisons. I’m getting an understanding of how difficult it is for [people who are incarcerated] to get an education… and how sentencing plays into that; how gender or sexuality or gender identity can play into that.”

Letters from College Inside newsletter readers. Photograph by Maddison Hwang.

One of the highlights of their work has been transcribing essay submissions from incarcerated writers, a process that has given Hwang insight into the diversity of “personal experiences, which differ greatly in different states.” Hwang often finds themself sharing anecdotes and information with their friends and peers, and drawing on the knowledge they’ve gained from Open Campus in their UCSC classes. For example, one of Hwang’s recent projects has been to analyze data from a survey West conducted about the use of tablets for prison education. Hwang shared, “It’s been really interesting because even though the tablets are meant for education, we are learning that often, that’s not really what they’re being used for. It’s really cool because in my senior seminar, we are actually talking about the use of tablets in prison, so it’s amazing to have this basis of knowledge going into that conversation.”

I have learned a lot more than I thought I was going to learn in the best way possible.

Hwang and West have built a mutually supportive relationship through the Public Fellows program. For West, working with Hwang has been a welcome extension of West’s experiences mentoring students as a reporting coach with the CalMatters College Journalism Network. West shared, “It was a hard decision to leave CalMatters and join Open Campus because I loved working with the students so much. I’ve been really excited to partner with THI and have the opportunity to work with students again.” Hwang’s prior office experience was a huge asset to the Open Campus team. West explains: “One of the reasons why I thought from the very beginning that Maddison was such a good fit is they had a lot of project management and communications experience which is so important for this kind of work. Journalism is so much more than ‘pure journalism.’ There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes before you get to the final story that ends up on our website, whether it’s research, editing, record requests, transcription. Maddison has been absolutely fantastic at facilitating those tasks.” Hwang adds, “I have learned a lot more than I thought I was going to learn in the best way possible. And this internship has made me feel like there’s so many things I want to do with my life.” Hwang, who was convinced they wanted to be a teacher, now sees a potential future for themself as a creative writer and a journalist: “I think if I did journalism, it would definitely be education journalism.”

Maddison Hwang photographs Professor Sharon Daniel’s “Making an Exoneree” Class for an Open Campus story on the project. Photograph by Charlotte West.

Hwang has also been able to draw on their other skills as part of their work at Open Campus, including their experiences as a photographer. Recently, Hwang and West visited UCSC Professor of Film and Digital Media Sharon Daniel’s class “Making an Exoneree” for a College Inside newsletter feature West was working on. The “Making an Exoneree” course is a collaboration between Professor Daniel and Georgetown University Professor Marc Howard and his childhood friend, Adjunct Professor Marty Tankleff, who was himself wrongfully convicted and incarcerated for almost 18 years prior to being exonerated. The course focuses on wrongful convictions and assembles a small group of students from UCSC and Georgetown to work together as investigators, documentarians, and social justice activists, with the goal of creating documentary projects to assert the innocence of wrongfully convicted persons. While West visited the class to interview students for the story, Hwang took photographs, and had the opportunity to learn about the technical processes for documentary-filmmaking. Hwang shared, “Photography was something I was originally going to pursue in college, but I wasn’t able to, so I got to back to those skills which was really cool. It was also cool to visit the film class because I have been doing a lot of work with Charlotte, but I had never seen her when she was out in the field so I got to observe how she approaches people and how she frames questions.”

Hwang is now working on a supplemental project for THI to curate an exhibition in Santa Cruz featuring the work of incarcerated and non-incarcerated writers and artists who are a part of the Rabbits of Realness network, a collaboration founded by incarcerated activist and artist Spoon Jackson, whom Hwang met through their work at Open Campus. The exhibition will take place at the Frida Kahlo Picnic area at Oakes College on June 6 from 12-5pm. It will feature visual art–including oil painting, acrylic paintings, colored pencils, and pen work–as well as poetry and music. Look for more details about the event later this month!

THI and Open Campus are offering another opportunity for a highly motivated undergraduate student to serve as a Public Fellow at Open Campus during Summer 2023, with the option to continue in the position during the 2023-2024 academic year. Applicants must be declared majors/minors in the Humanities Division at UCSC. Read more about the internship and application requirements in the Call for Applications; applications are due May 22nd.

THI’s 2022-2023 Undergraduate Public Fellowships are generously supported by the Helen and Will Webster Foundation.

Banner Image: Maddison Hwang photographing Professor Sharon Daniel’s “Making an Exoneree Class” for Open Campus. Photograph by Charlotte West.