More student profiles! In this bite-sized Q&A with Eric Sturm, we find out what he's been up to at NYU and what his particular path looks like in the fight against mass incarceration.
Student Q & A with Eric Sturm, of NYU’s Incarceration to Education Coalition
July 28, 2014
What student group are you a part of?
I am a member of the Incarceration to Education Coalition.
How does your student group run? Elected leaders or consensus?
All decisions regarding IEC are made through consensus. We support non-hierarchical, participatory democracy and this is reflected in our organizational structure.Our group is built on the experiences of formerly incarcerated people, therefore, our decision-making process requires these voices.
What would you say is the mission of this group? At large, why do you organize or educate?
IEC works to end discrimination against formerly incarcerated NYU applicants and applicants with criminal records. We are founded on the principles that education is a human right, and that we as members of the NYU community have an active obligation to expand that right while working for racial and economic justice. Our vision and efforts are centered around the voices and experiences of directly impacted people, families, and communities. We demand that NYU “Abolish The Box,” by removing the question on NYU applications that asks applicants to disclose their history within the criminal punishment system. We are working to end detrimental stigmas surrounding directly impacted people through activism and peer education. We are contributing to the national effort to challenge our institutions to reckon with racial and economic injustice. We demand an end to policies that sustain the carceral continuum and keep formerly incarcerated people tied to the criminal punishment system.
How did you first get involved?
I attended a performance of What It Iz (a prison abolitionist hip hop theater remix of The Wiz) at NYU Gallatin. At the show, IEC members were collecting signatures for the “Abolish the Box” petition and I wanted to learn more about the campaign. I went to my first meeting and I was really impressed by the commitment to social justice and liberation. The IEC members were very welcoming and created a safe space to focus on issues I care about.
What has been your favorite moment so far as an organizer/student activist?
In May of 2014, IEC held a demonstration/teach-in at Washington Square Park. It was encouraging to see how many people came to support us and we received mostly positive responses from community members. All IEC members made vital contributions to the event as organizers, educators, artists, etc. We took a big step toward public awareness of “The Box” as an oppressive policy.
What has been the biggest challenge for you personally as a student activist?
My biggest obstacle is overcoming the widespread misconceptions and stigma surrounding the American punishment system. Growing up in a mostly white, privileged social network, very few people were exposed to the devastating effects of mass incarceration on marginalized communities. The idea of higher education as a human right is often rejected in privileged communities, as exclusivity and elitism are actually considered desirable. It is extremely difficult to explain that “the box” is discriminatory when people also fail to see the basic injustices of our punishment and education systems.
What has your group struggled with the most? Both internal and external challenges?
In conversations with administrators, IEC has been told that NYU is not directly responsible for and does not contribute to social injustices. This belief justifies inaction among students and administrators. We hope to grow a critical consciousness at NYU and throughout the country, challenging pervasive inequalities in access to higher education.
Do you co-organize or coordinate with any other interest groups on campus? If so, who?
IEC is co-organizing a social justice student group meet-and-greet at NYU. Other participating NYU student groups are: NYU Divest, Students for Justice in Palestine, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and the Dream Team. IEC also works closely with NYU’s Center for Multicultural Education and Programs.
How does your groups concerns and issues relate to other groups?
“Abolishing the Box” relates to all groups and individuals who believe in racial and economic equality. IEC is one of many organizations that work to improve access to education for marginalized people.
Do you ever talk about how all oppression is connected?
Yes! We ALWAYS talk about how all oppression is connected!