Skip to Primary Menu Skip to Utility Menu Skip to Main Content Skip to Footer

Exhibition Reservations Available Here

UC Santa Cruz Logo Institute of the Arts and Sciences
UC Santa Cruz Logo

Visualizing Abolition Studies Certificate Program

Home / Education / Academic Programs / Visualizing Abolition Studies
Home / Education / Academic Programs / Visualizing Abolition Studies

What would it mean to study the problem of incarceration not only from the view of specialists who dominate the narrative—criminologists, sociologists, even historians—but  also from the view of artists? How can the arts catalyze thinking and dreaming that both expand our notions of the prison industrial complex and also denaturalize its workings and effects?

Visualizing Abolition Studies (VAST), a certificate program housed in the Humanities Division, offers undergraduate students access to a curriculum in critical studies of incarceration that develops skills in analyzing art and visual culture. With VAST classes offered by faculty in the Humanities, Social Sciences, and Arts, the program offers an interdisciplinary, cross-departmental frame for examining art and social problems as a response to a critical dynamic: visual materials co-constitute our world, and are often a primary means through which we come to access it. Yet, the roles that art and visual culture take in normalizing or destabilizing our carceral society are often overlooked. VAST will prepare students to challenge the existing criminal legal system and also the means through which we come to study it, developing critical thinking about the social and cultural systems that structure our lives and the tools needed to meaningfully advocate for social justice.

How to Earn the Certificate

  • A total of fifteen credits are required to complete the certificate
  • The credits must be earned in courses listed with a VAST course code or courses approved in consultation with the VAST advisers 
  • One class must be “Introduction to Visualizing Abolition” 
  • You can take the courses in any order you choose

Certificate Level Learning Outcomes

As a result of completing the VAST certificate program, students will be able to:

  • Think beyond the entrenched social dynamics that center on punishment.
  • Analyze the role played by visual media in constructing past and present social systems.
  • Create and/or interpret visual art in order to challenge carceral practices and fashion new modes of relationality. 
  • Develop critical skills and workplace experience required to enter multiple post-graduate professions such as (but scarcely limited to): the arts, teaching, legal work, the non-profit sector, and social work.
Winter 2024 courses: 
FMST 71/VAST 1: Introduction to Visualizing Abolition Studies with Rachel Nelson
This course is an interdisciplinary inquiry into the role visual culture plays in the maintenance of the prison industrial complex and an introduction to artistic practices that challenge law and social policy.
MUSC 11B: Introduction to Jazz with James Gordon Williams
Designed to provide students with thorough and comprehensive background in history and roots of jazz as a musical style from its African roots to the present. Essential jazz styles and traditions are discussed through lectures, required listening, readings, lecture demonstrations, and film presentations.
PSYC/LGST147A: Psychology & Law with Craig Haney
Current and future relationships between law and psychology, paying special attention to gaps between legal fictions and psychological realities in the legal system. Topics include an introduction to social science and law, the nature of legal and criminal responsibility, the relationship between the social and legal concepts of discrimination, and the nature of legal punishment.
HAVC 191S: Topics in American Art and Visual Culture with Jennifer González
This advanced seminar will focus on U.S. artists, mostly modern and contemporary, who consider the concept of freedom and how it has been depicted. Thematic topics will focus on different media including painting, sculpture, photography, installation art, and public art.
CRES 115: Frantz Fanon: Resistance, Revolution, and Decolonization with Sophia Azeb
Students immerse themselves in the intellectual, political, and critical thought of 20th-century Martiniquan psychoanalyst, writer, and revolutionary Frantz Fanon. Students closely read several of Fanon’s most noted works. Class also engages contemporary interpretations of Fanon’s transnational, emancipatory thought and practice from scholarly, aesthetic, and political organizing perspectives.
PSYC 150-01: Race, Education, and the Carceral State with Julissa O. Muñiz
Explores the multifaceted and complex relationship between the U.S. public education and juvenile legal systems to examine how these two seemingly disparate systems work together to systematically disadvantage multiply marginalized communities and individuals.
Spring 2024 courses:
ART 175: Taking Art to the Streets with John Jota Leaños
PSYC/LGST147B: Psychology & Law with Craig Haney
PSYC 150-01: Race, Education, and the Carceral State with Julissa O. Muñiz

Affiliated Faculty

Gina Dent (Feminist Studies) (Faculty Lead)
Sophia Azeb (Critical Race and Ethnic Studies)
Jorge Menna Barreto (Art)
Cláudio Bueno (Art) 
Sharon Daniel (Film & Digital Media)
Joseph Erb (Film & Digital Media)
Mayanthi Fernando (Anthropology)
Jennifer González (History of Art and Visual Culture)
Craig Haney (Psychology)
Camilla Hawthorne (Sociology)
Isaac Julien (Art)
Caitlin Keliiaa (Feminist Studies)  
John Jota Leaños (Film & Digital Media)
Julissa O. Muniz (Psychology)
Laurie Palmer (Art)  
Savannah Shange (Anthropology/Critical Race and Ethnic Studies)
James Gordon Williams (Music)
Ronaldo V. Wilson (Literature)  

Advising for the VAST program is administered through the Institute of the Arts and Sciences. For questions, please schedule a meeting with Tatiane Santa Rosa or email

Visualizing Abolition is organized by Gina Dent and Rachel Nelson, with support from the Mellon Foundation.

Public Programs (Tab to skip section.)


Watch Now