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Visualizing Abolition Studies Certificate Program

Home / Visualizing Abolition / Visualizing Abolition Studies
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.
VAST Courses – Current and Upcoming
Summer 2024 – Session 1
FILM 185F – 01 Advanced Topics in Film Studies with Ksenia Fir
Mondays and Wednesdays, 1-4:30 pm, Thimann Lab 101
Study of a selected aspect of film history, theory, and/or criticism. Usually offered in alternate academic years with rotating topics. May be repeated for credit. Special Topic: Writing Abolitionist Worlds. In this experimental critical studies seminar/screenwriting lab, we will practice envisioning futures and worlds free of carceral structures and transforming these visions into short screenplays. The goal of the course is to consider how speculative writing for the screen can be utilized as an abolitionist and social justice-oriented creative practice.
Summer 2024 – Session 2
KRSG 60C – 01   Narratives of Incarceration and Abolition with Tatiane Santa Rosa
Thursdays, 09:00AM-12:30PM, McHenry Lib 1350
Analyzes systems of incarceration in the U.S. and explores movements to abolish those systems and to envision alternative modes of justice. Themes include, but are not limited to, the role that mass incarceration plays in contemporary society, histories of resistance, political prisoners, racial justice, and the intellectual, creative, and political interventions of incarcerated people. Students engage in collaborative projects throughout the class, and learn effective strategies for group work and interpersonal communication. (Formerly offered as Prison Narratives.)
Spring 2024 courses:
ART 175: Taking Art to the Streets with John Jota Leaños
“Taking Art to the Streets” is an artmaking and studio course exploring street art as a tool for social change, focusing on themes like community safety, policing, and abolition.
PSYC/LGST147B: Psychology & Law with Craig Haney
This advanced course, a continuation of PSYC/LGST 147A, focuses on an empirically based, critical analysis of each stage of criminal legal system processing.
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.
PSYC 159-G: Gender, Race, And Justice with Julissa O. Muñiz
Attends to the intersections of gender, race, and justice, with a specific focus on girls and women of color. Covers a range of topics related to gender, race, and carcerality.
Past 2023-2024 courses: 
FMST 71/VAST 1: Introduction to Visualizing Abolition Studies with Rachel Nelson
MUSC 11B: Introduction to Jazz with James Gordon Williams
PSYC/LGST147A: Psychology & Law with Craig Haney
HAVC 191S: Topics in American Art and Visual Culture with Jennifer González
CRES 115: Frantz Fanon: Resistance, Revolution, and Decolonization with Sophia Azeb
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.

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