The New Social Environment#57

The Bard Prison Initiative


1 p.m. Eastern / 10 a.m. Pacific

A discussion with Max Kenner, Christopher Rey Pérez, Erica Mateo on the Bard Prison Initiative and the College Behind Bars documentary, with historian Craig Stevens Wilder and Charles Duncan, Executive Director of The Richard Pousette-Dart Foundation.

Max Kenner is founder and executive director of the Bard Prison Initiative (BPI) – among the largest, longest-standing, and most influential college-in-prison institutions in the United States. A leading advocate for the restoration of college-in-prison, Kenner is also co-founder of the Consortium for the Liberal Arts in Prison, which supports colleges and universities in establishing college-in-prison projects nationwide, and also of the Bard Microcollege, which establishes rigorous, tuition-free college opportunity within urban areas in partnership with community-based institutions. At Bard College, Kenner serves as Vice President for Institutional Initiatives and Advisor to the President on Public Policy & College Affairs. He has served on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s New York State Council on Community Re-Entry and Reintegration since its inception. He is the recipient of many awards and under his stewardship, BPI has figured prominently in the media, including most recently when BPI and its students were subjects of the acclaimed documentary film College Behind Bars which aired nationally on PBS in November 2019.

Christopher Rey Pérez is a poet from the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Among his published creative works is his book,gauguin’s notebook(&Now Books, ‘17), which received the 2015 Madeleine P. Plonsker Prize from Lake Forest College, and Aliens Beyond Paradise / Alienígenas más allá del paraíso (Wendy’s Subway/ Queens Museum, ‘19). His work in higher education includes teaching at al-Quds Bard College for Arts & Sciences in Palestine. He has also taught in the Language & Thinking program of Bard College and is a faculty associate of Bard’s Institute for Writing & Thinking. Currently, he is Program Director of the Bard Microcollege at Brooklyn Public Library.

Erica Mateo is the Project Director of Neighborhood Safety Initiatives at the Center for Court Innovation. Erica oversees the strategic planning and implementation of CPTED, place-making and built environment projects at the Center’s neighborhood operating projects across NYC. She leads collaborative community planning processes, oversees staff and stakeholder trainings and secures resources for project sustainability. At the Center, her public space work looks to improve public health and safety by supporting local problem-solving and improving efficacy in resident and government collaboration. Projects range from the strategic use of lighting, greenery, way-finders and streetscape to the revitalization of a blighted lot into an outdoor youth clubhouse. Formerly, the Deputy Director of the Brownsville Community Justice Center, Erica oversaw the launch and development of the Belmont Ave Revitalization Project, the Justice Center’s anti-violence campaign, and civic training for court-involved youth 16-24 years old. Erica graduated from Bard College.

Craig Steven Wilder is a historian of American institutions and ideas. Professor Wilder began his career as a community organizer in the South Bronx. He has taught at Dartmouth College, Williams College, and Long Island University, and has been a visiting professor at the New School University and University College London. Professor Wilder is a senior fellow at the Bard Prison Initiative, where he has served as a visiting professor, commencement speaker, and academic advisor. He has advised and appeared in numerous historical documentaries and serves on the board of the Lapidus Center for the Historical Analysis of Transatlantic Slavery at the Schomburg Center, New York Public Library. He has directed or advised exhibits at regional and national museums, including the Brooklyn Historical Society, the New-York Historical Society, the Chicago History Museum, among many others. (

Charles Duncan is Executive Director of the Richard Pousette-Dart Foundation.

❤️ 🌈 We'd like to thank the The Terra Foundation for American Art for making these daily conversations possible, and for their support of our growing archive.