July 31, 2018
Contact

For high-resolution photos, interviews, and more information please contact:

Burke Museum Public Relations
burkepr@uw.edu
206.543.9762

Burke Museum Aids in Prisoners' Learning

Dr. Holly Barker and Oceania Collections go to University Beyond Bars Class

Burke PR

Monroe, WA – A group of Asian Pacific Islander (API) students lean in to touch the soft texture of a tapa cloth while listening intently to Dr. Holly Barker, Burke Museum curator for Oceanic and Asian culture and University of Washington principal lecturer of anthropology, explain the communal effort it takes to make these intricate cloths. Dozens of women pound bark with tapa beaters over the course of several weeks to make large tapa cloths, a process so intensive the rest of the community feeds the women and keeps them company while they work.

This was no ordinary day in the classroom; Barker and Burke collections left the museum’s walls, and journeyed behind bars at the Washington State Reformatory Unit (WSRU) in Monroe, Washington.

The class was part of a multi-week course created by inmates at the WSRU who are a part of the API community. The inmates were not only the students, but also facilitated classes and the lesson plans themselves. The API course is a part of the University Beyond Bars (UBB) program, which offers a range of credit and non-credit bearing college courses for prisoners and enriching educational experiences while incarcerated, bringing critical skills with them upon their release.

An outrigger canoe from the Marshall Islands, tapa cloths, and an island navigational stick map came with Barker to the class. The class covered traditional Oceania boat-building and navigation, along with cultural resiliency in spite of the long term impacts of nuclear testing during the Cold War. Barker and the students discussed how Indigenous science and research methods, including oral histories and community-based learning, are essential aspects of understanding the objects and cultural practices.

Many of the students are of API heritage, and expressed how important it is to connect to their ancestors as a source of strength and healing. “We have to know our story to know what happened. We want to know more about our families and what we had to endure to be where we’re at today. We don’t know,” a UBB student named Josh said.

When asked about how the objects aided in his learning, “It helps me visualize what was and the potential our culture [has] contemporarily, as old skills are adapted to today’s understanding of ship-building,” a UBB student named James said.

“Being able to touch and handle the boat gave a more deep and meaningful connection to the craftsmanship,” a UBB student named Ralph said.

“The collections at the Burke belong to the people of Washington state, and it is our obligation to make sure all people have a chance to experience the excitement that comes from accessing the creativity, brilliance and beauty of the pieces,” Barker said. “I absolutely love working with the API group; they have wonderful insights and questions, and were some of the most actively engaged students I have worked with! I find myself looking forward to the visits for weeks before they occur. I am impressed that they are creating their curriculum and reaching out to places like the Burke, and I'm happy and honored to support their ideas to the best of my abilities.”

The course was designed in collaboration with the API Cultural Group at WSRU and with the participation of API community organizations FIGHT and API Chaya. “This is the third iteration of the course UBB has been able to offer,” UBB Program Director Joel Strom said. “Holly always provides an unforgettable classroom experience and the inclusion of artifacts from the Burke this year was something very special indeed. We believe that education has the power to be transformative even behind prison walls. The level of student engagement in this course is proof of that.”

“University Beyond Bars has had the most positive impact in my 18 years of prison so far. It has given me the ability to see more positive options for myself, especially for my eventual release back into the community,” a UBB student named Ralph said.

This visit is one of several classes being taught by Barker, who is teaching other API groups in prison facilities across the state. In addition, the Burke and UBB are collaborating with other cultural groups to assist with new courses they’re developing.

“No matter where you are in life, history and the importance of knowing has no limits,” a UBB student named Mark said.

If you are interested in volunteering with University Beyond Bars or you would like to learn more about the organization, contact Program Director Joel Strom, info@universitybeyondbars.org or visit UBB’s website at universitybeyondbars.org.

For high resolution photos and interviews, contact burkepr@uw.edu

Photos (from top to bottom): University Beyond Bars students examine a tapa cloth from the Burke Museum’s collection during a visit to their class at the Washington State Reformatory Unit in Monroe, WA. Photo courtesy Burke Museum; Burke Museum Curator of Oceanic and Asian Culture Dr. Holly Barker shows a UBB student a tapa cloth during her recent visit to the Washington State Reformatory Unit in Monroe, WA. Photo courtesy Burke Museum; A University Beyond Bars student examines a Marshallese outrigger canoe from the Burke Museum’s collection during a visit to their class at the Washington State Reformatory Unit in Monroe, WA. Photo courtesy of Burke Museum; Burke Museum Curator of Oceanic and Asian Culture Dr. Holly Barker, with students participating in an Asian Pacific Islander class during their incarceration at the Washington State Reformatory Unit in Monroe, WA

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About the Burke Museum:
The Burke Museum is the Washington State Museum of Natural History and Culture. The Burke is an active research museum that cares for 16 million geology, biology and cultural objects from Washington state and around the world, preserving natural and cultural history and generating new discoveries.

Founded in 1885 and designated the State Museum in 1899, the Burke Museum is the oldest public museum in Washington. The Burke Museum is located on the University of Washington campus, at the corner of NE 45th St. and 17th Ave. NE. Hours are 10 am to 5 pm daily, and until 8 pm on first Thursdays. Admission: $10 general, $8 senior, $7.50 student/ youth. Admission is free to children four and under, Burke members, UW students, faculty, and staff. Admission is free to the public on the first Thursday of each month. UW parking fees are $3 per hour up to 4 hours or $15 all day on weekdays, $5 flat fee on Saturdays before noon, and free parking after noon on Saturdays and all-day Sundays. Call 206.543.5590 or visit www.burkemuseum.org. The Burke Museum is an American Alliance of Museums-accredited museum and a Smithsonian Affiliate.

About University Beyond Bars:
Founded in 2005, University Beyond Bars (UBB) is a non-profit organization that seeks to empower prisoners to fulfill their poten­tial through communities of higher learning that transcend prison walls. Its mission is rooted in the belief that ev­eryone has a right to education, regardless of identity, socioeconomic status, or circum­stance. It strives to break cycles of incarceration, strengthen families and com­munities, confront racism and classism, and promote personal achievement and social reintegration by providing transformational education opportunities that center student voices and experiences.

UBB provides direct service to men incarcerated in two state prisons (Washington State Reformatory & Minimum Security Unit) at the Monroe Correctional Complex in Snohomish County, Washington. UBB was the first program to offer sustained access to a college degree inside prison after the Washington State legislature prohibited state funding in 1994. UBB is the only higher education program serving male prisoners in the Greater Seattle MSA (comprising four of the state’s largest counties). UBB offers a wide range of educational opportunities including college preparatory courses, Associate of Arts (AA), Associate of Science (AS), and Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree programs, computer tech courses, sustainability vocational certification programs, as well as a variety of seminars and lectures that introduce varied subjects to the entire prison population. 

About the Washington State Reformatory:
WSRU is one of five facilities that are part of the Monroe Correctional Complex.  The unit houses over 700 medium and minimum custody incarcerated individuals.  The total population at Monroe is about 2,500 incarcerated individuals making it the second-largest prison in the state.

Student examines a Marshallese outrigger canoe

A University Beyond Bars student examines a Marshallese outrigger canoe from the Burke Museum’s collection during a visit to their class at the Washington State Reformatory Unit in Monroe, WA.
Photo: Burke Museum

Dr. Barker with UBB student

Burke Museum Curator of Oceanic and Asian Culture Dr. Holly Barker shows a UBB student a tapa cloth during her recent visit to the Washington State Reformatory Unit in Monroe, WA.
Photo: Burke Museum

Students examine a navigational stick map

University Beyond Bars students examine a navigational stick map from the Burke Museum’s collection during a visit to their class at the Washington State Reformatory Unit in Monroe, WA.
Photo: Burke Museum

Students examine a tapa cloth

University Beyond Bars students examine a tapa cloth from the Burke Museum’s collection during a visit to their class at the Washington State Reformatory Unit in Monroe, WA.
Photo: Burke Museum

Dr. Barker with UBB Students

Burke Museum Curator of Oceanic and Asian Culture Dr. Holly Barker, with students participating in an Asian Pacific Islander class during their incarceration at the Washington State Reformatory Unit in Monroe, WA.
Photo: Burke Museum

Contact

For high-resolution photos, interviews, and more information please contact:

Burke Museum Public Relations
burkepr@uw.edu
206.543.9762

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