Meet the scholars inspiring this year’s Summer Institute

In the photo: Jason Ashe, Ashley Gripper, Ans Irfan, Sireen Irsheid, Demar Lewis, Stephanie Keeney Parks, and Michael Rosario


Policy Panel Origins 

During the 2021 Summer Institute, seven scholars from Cohort 3—Michael Rosario, Ashley Gripper, Sireen Irsheid, Stephanie Keeney Parks, Jason Ashe, Demar Lewis, and Ans Irfan—were dissatisfied with traditional policy methods that center the idea that policy should be based on incremental changes for the greater good. They aimed to “draw on ideas outside of this, to think more radically, and to embrace what we think change-makers should be: people who break past the boundaries of what we’re taught to be acceptable.” The idea to create space for a conversation on interrupting systemic mechanisms of inequity didn’t feel complete without engaging abolition scholars and community activists who are actively working to target oppressive systems both in scholarship and practice. The scholars spent the next year planning, texting, and collaborating virtually, to bring these panels to fruition.


Policy Panel Highlights 

The scholars chose to focus the 2021 panels—three sessions total—on a vision for an anti-racist, non-carceral society because as HPRS scholars, they typically explore reform via policy at the theoretical and practical levels. In order to supplement their training, they invited scholars and community activists who are often kept to the fringes, embrace abolitionist politics, and who are less interested in reforming institutions, but rather in imagining new ways of engaging in community work, support, and transformative justice.

The discussions centered on the interconnectedness that it takes to grapple with multiple systems at once, such as: there cannot be the prison industrial complex without educational systems that act as a catchment center for prisons; or a healthcare system that pathologized disabled people as criminals; or food systems that destabilize impoverished communities, all of which cause health problems. The panel provided a space for scholars to “dream, envision, and enact policies to build a liberated society where all oppressed peoples have access to all the resources and support they need to thrive.”


What’s next 

The feedback from the first Policy Panel was overwhelmingly positive, and many scholars who attended expressed “feeling seen as an equitable part of the future making of our country.” The group of scholars who organized the sessions credited their mentors and the unwavering support of Dr. Kesha Pollack Porter, Laurie Unruh, and other folks at the NPC who believed in their vision. This year’s Summer Session, July 18–22 in Baltimore, Maryland will take inspiration from last year, and we look forward to continuing to embrace scholar-led and scholar-driven programming!


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