During her freshman spring, Madison took a seminar entitled, Race, Crime, and Punishment, taught by Professor Marie Gottschalk. Madison credits the course with opening her eyes to the harsh realities of the carceral space. Madison feels it is critical to study criminal justice from the perspective of the African American population, so she is majoring in both Political Science and Africana Studies. Madison’s dual majors have exposed her to many interconnected courses across a variety of disciplines within the College of Arts and Sciences.
Mass incarceration has become a central focus of Madison’s academic studies at Penn. Her perspective on women in the U.S. prison system was transformed when she took the Women and Incarceration: Health Education for Incarcerated (GSWS 555-401) course, which offers students the opportunity to develop and implement health education workshops for incarcerated women in Philadelphia. This unique learning opportunity includes onsite visits to Riverside Correctional Facility. For Madison, the course gave her a first-hand view of the women’s lives and awakened a desire to better understand incarcerated women.
Through her chosen majors, she finds interdisciplinary connections across many of her classes. For example, a survey English course, Toni Morrison and the Adventure of the 21st Century, focused on Morrison’s fiction and non-fiction and included readings from the works of writers influenced by the author. Madison sees connections between this course and to some of the criminal justice classes she has taken. Like the English class on Morrison, her other classes ask questions about who is considered within academic discourse, and who is permitted to tell stories and histories about certain individuals and groups.
Madison’s classroom experiences inspired her to continue to work directly with incarcerated women and, ultimately, led to several internships. As an intern for Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Madison conducted research on women’s correctional facilities that focused on nursery programs for women who give birth in prison. She examined the types of facilities that are available and how the programs are regulated.
Madison also completed an internship with the Raven Group, a Washington DC-based public policy firm, where she learned about how nonprofit organizations create strategic plans, the role of lobbyists in Washington, and how technology can be used to combat child sex trafficking.
Motivated by her interests and supported by the University, Madison co-founded a criminal justice-based organization called Beyond Arrest, Re-thinking Systematic Oppression (BARS). The goal is to create a campus forum where students can discuss criminal justice issues. In addition to hosting on-campus meetings and speakers, BARS members volunteer with educational programs in prisons and publish a monthly blog about criminal justice. Madison is working to expand the organization to other college campuses, and she plans to continue her activism after graduation. She credits the internship opportunities, her experience on the Penn Women's Soccer Team, and the boundless support she received at Penn as instrumental in shaping her abilities as a leader, innovator, and community organizer.