Social justice course produces podcast to combat Nebraska prison injustices

Wednesday, May 11, 2022 - 9:15am

by Kaitlin Van Loon

The 165 students in the Social Justice, Human Rights and the Media class produced a podcast with the goal of elevating voices and stories that are often left out of mainstream media.

This was the first semester College of Journalism and Mass Communications assistant professor of advertising and public relations Kelli Boling taught the course.

At the start of the spring 2022 semester, Boling had her students choose from eight book club options. The books covered topics from LGBTQA+ rights to sexual assault. Over half the class decided to read “American Prison” by Shane Bauer, so Boling structured the podcast subject around the class’s biggest interest.

The podcast was student-produced and student-driven–whether it was designing the artwork, writing scripts, producing episodes or piecing together the trailer, each student had a hand in the podcast. There were 11 different roles students could choose from and each student got to pick a role they wanted.

“This was not a podcast class, this was a social justice and human rights class that produced a podcast as a counter-narrative to what we typically see in the media regarding the prison system,” Boling said. “Our goal was to go beyond learning about societal injustice and join the fight for change in the Nebraska prison system.”

Each episode of the “And Still We Rise” podcast features the story of a different woman impacted by the Nebraska criminal justice system.

The podcast title was inspired by the stories of the women who were interviewed. Many of them are alumnae of the RISE program. RISE is the largest nonprofit organization in Nebraska focused solely on helping the incarcerated prepare for reentering society.

Throughout the semester the class hosted guest speakers who talked about mass incarceration. Speakers included the author of “American Prison” Shane Bauer, Lincoln Police Chief Teresa Ewins, Nebraska State Sen. Megan Hunt of Omaha and RISE alumna Carla Walker.

Freshman psychology major Bella Lucero was a host and narrator for the podcast. She’s also an honors student and to get honors credit for the course, she wrote a paper on mass incarceration.

Bella Lucero working on the And Still We Rise podcast.

“I think it is easy for people to assume the worst about others, especially if they have been incarcerated in the past, but this does nothing to create the more inclusive and welcoming society we claim to strive for,” Lucero said. “I believe it is important to listen to the stories of the women in the podcasts so that we can remember that each person has a story and that we are all human.”

Twenty-five percent of the students in this semester’s class did not have majors in the CoJMC. Boling enjoyed seeing the CoJMC students step up as leaders and help their classmates.

“My favorite part about working on this project was training the students who weren’t CoJMC majors on how to use audio equipment and produce a podcast,” Boling said. “This was entirely new for some students and they brought so much enthusiasm to the project.”

For the last day of class, on May 4, the class had a listening party to celebrate the launch of “And Still We Rise” in the Swanson Auditorium at the Nebraska City Union. On Spotify, you’ll find five interview-style episodes, two bonus episodes and a trailer that supported the podcast launch.

Over the duration of the semester, one main theme that stuck out to Lucero.

“There are so many injustices in our society that go unnoticed everyday,” Lucero said. “They perpetuate harmful stereotypes our society holds towards certain people that will never allow them to be seen as equal to majority groups.”

The students in Social Justice, Human Rights and the Media hope that they’ve helped contribute to breaking down stereotypes when it comes to those currently and formerly incarcerated in Nebraska.