I Don't Think No Kid Should Be Here: A Critical Ethnography on Learning in the Carceral Context
Julissa Muñiz

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



Northwestern University

Primary Discipline

Using a critical ethnographic approach, my dissertation examines a Midwest County juvenile detention center as a site of learning. Bringing together cultural historical activity theory and institutional theory frameworks (CHAT-IT), this study foregrounds learning in context, more notably how learning is conceptualized, organized, and experienced by the various social actors within the juvenile detention center (Ogawa, Crain, Loomis, & Ball, 2008). In addition to investigating the varied forms of learning accessible to incarcerated youth, this study examines how different institutional actors, particularly the adults in the carceral setting, (i.e. administrators, teachers, security staff, and community members) organize and conceptualize education under confinement. In what ways are these narratives different, or similar to, how young people narrate their learning and schooling experiences? By studying education in the carceral context?a liminal space between schools and prisons?and the experiences of those caught in both worlds, researchers, educators, and policymakers can develop a better understanding of 1) what it means to learn and go to school while incarcerated as a young person, 2) how juvenile practitioners conceptualize, design, and organize education for those inside, and 3) how youth make sense of those learning experiences in ways that have implications for their educational trajectories. Otherwise, our conceptualization and approach to the school prison nexus will remain incomplete, further harming countless youth and communities over time.
About Julissa Muñiz
Julissa Muñiz is a PhD candidate in Human Development and Social Policy at Northwestern University in the School of Education and Social Policy. As an educational ethnographer, her research focuses on sociocultural forms of learning, youth identity development, and the design and implementation of learning environments in the carceral context. Julissa's work is deeply informed by her experiences in prisons and juvenile facilities as a tutor, GED instructor, writing workshop facilitator, art instructor, facility monitor, and most recently as a college instructor. It was in fact her students and inside co-teacher at San Quentin State Prison who first encouraged her to study learning and education in the juvenile context. Julissa holds an M.A. in Human Development and Social Policy from Northwestern University, an Ed.M. in Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a B.A. in Ethnic Studies from the University of California, Berkeley. Upon graduating from HGSE, she was nominated and awarded the 2016 Intellectual Contribution/Faculty Tribute Award for her department. Additionally, Julissa has received funding for her doctoral studies and dissertation research from the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans, University of Texas Austin Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, the Social Science Research Council/Northwestern University, the Buffett Institute, and the Northwestern Program of African Studies. As a doctorate student, Julissa founded Northwestern's first Latinx-centered graduate student organization, Comunidad Latinx, and served as the organization's president for two years. When she's not reading and writing, she enjoys traveling and hiking with her daughter, Amaris, and her fiancé, Devin.

Pin It on Pinterest