Building Community For Change

With the upheaval and unrest of the past several months, it’s no surprise that college students across the country are navigating unprecedented challenges.

“Being a Point Scholar during the pandemic is a very strange feeling,” says Josh Aiken, recipient of the Steven Esposito Memorial Scholarship. “But I feel supported and encouraged. That has been a bright spot during the pandemic.”

Aiken, who is in a J.D.- Ph.D. program at Yale University, is amplifying that feeling of support throughout his community. One of the ways he does this is by co-convening a weekly group of university students and New Haven residents who gather virtually to discuss issues regarding mass incarceration and restorative justice. The Racial Capitalism and the Carceral State Working Group brings together anywhere from 35 to 60 individuals to share readings, listen to presentations and discussions, and explore ideas related to justice.

“It has been an incredible space to talk through the really bad things that have been happening, and the scary things, too – the pandemic, the election, the summer of police violence. Being able to have a group that was already thinking about those questions has been inspiring,” Aiken says.

Beyond learning more about these topics, members of the group have also been inspired to offer mutual aid to their larger communities during the year’s most difficult moments, especially amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

“People are going and getting groceries for those who are more vulnerable in their buildings,” he says.

Aiken has also been taking roughly six hours of law school classes every day via Zoom. In the coming semester, he will participate in a clinic and practicum which will allow him to work directly with clients and apply what he has learned thus far about the law.

Just as exciting, Aiken will also be running “know your rights” trainings, which will be especially helpful for those who participated in protests over the summer, as well as those who may protest in the future. Sharing this information with his community will allow for trainees to use their voices and help bring about justice and equity.

“This is something I needed to know when I was an undergraduate – how peaceful protests and safe protests can take place,” he says. “The reason I came to law school was to be able to do things like that.”

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