Incarcerated youth visit campus

Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice Managing Director David Harris and Legal Fellow Katy Naples-Mitchell. Courtesy of Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice

3 min read

On Nov. 1, a group of incarcerated youth and staff from the Massachusetts Department of Youth Services (DYS) visited different Harvard University centers and Schools. “We wanted DYS youth and staff to know that a university education is accessible, and within their reach.” said Pedro De Abreu, a fellow at Harvard University’s Phillips Brooks House, who organized the visit.

The youth first visited the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, where they met with the center’s faculty, staff, and students. Executive Director Abby Wolf commented, “We were delighted to welcome the young men from DYS to the Hutchins Center. Our hope is that the youth left more curious than they were when they came in, and that that curiosity will help them as they forge their future paths. Most importantly, we hope they left feeling that there are many paths to take to exploring what interests them.”

DYS group shot
DYS youth and staff along with Abby Wolf, Executive Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research. Photo courtesy of Pedro De Abreu.

The visit to the Hutchins Center was followed by a visit to the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School where Managing Director David Harris, Legal Fellow Katy Naples-Mitchell, and two Juris Doctorate Harvard Law School students welcomed the DYS youth and staff. Harris said “We were glad to spend some time with the young men from DYS, who reminded us of why we do the work we do. They were thoughtful, articulate, and full of promise — despite the obstacles they have faced and continue to face. We were just as pleased to have the DYS staff with us, whose interest in the young men’s future was truly encouraging.  We look forward to being able to welcome them and others back to campus, and thank Phillips Brooks House for creating the opportunity. It is the kind of connection between the University and the community at large we seek to expand.”

Harvard Graduate School of Design’s John J. Aslanian took the DYS youth and staff on a tour of the GSD and John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences/Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Ph.D. student Kaitlyn P. Becker, showed the DYS youth and staff the cutting-edge underwater robotics work from her laboratory.

“I wish I had someone there to guide me when I was younger; I am studying sociology so I can one day become a counselor in my community and help others,” shared one of the DYS youth.

“This visit was about access, vision, and inspiration. We tailored the visit around their interests; we wanted the youth to feel that they belong in an environment such as this. We were so happy to see the youth engage in critical discussions on race and the justice system, as we were so happy to see them being offered opportunities to stay involved,” said De Abreu, who also plans to start a foundation that serves incarcerated youth’s educational and professional needs.