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Visualizing Abolition Studies Certificate Program

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Home / Visualizing Abolition / 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.

Spring 2023 courses: 
FILM 171: Making an Exoneree (Daniels)
FMST 71/VAST 1: Introduction to Visualizing Abolition Studies (Dent and Nelson)

Summer 2023 courses: 
KRSG 60-C: Prison Narratives (Fidler)

Fall 2023 courses: 
FMST 176/VAST 176 Law, Prisons, and Popular Culture (Dent)

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)  
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 email

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

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