2016 Silver Circle winner Laurie Jo Reynolds

Laurie Jo Reynolds

The interdisciplinary nature of her course makes it “a fruitful think-tank-like experience,” says Laurie Jo Reynolds. Photo: Miguel Vazquez

Since 1966, the Silver Circle Award has been presented to some of UIC’s best teachers. Winners, who are honored at their college commencements, receive $500 and their names join a long list of distinguished colleagues. But what makes the award especially meaningful is its selection committee: the graduating seniors.

Laurie Jo Reynolds, who describes herself as an artist and policy advocate, has won a Silver Circle Award in her first full year of teaching at UIC.

Reynolds, assistant professor of social justice in the School of Art and Art History, teaches aesthetics in an unlikely realm — the criminal justice system.

Art 520, a seminar in contemporary theory, is entitled Prison Aesthetics & Policy. The course, which is cross-listed in sociology and is also taken by students in English and social work, was devised by Reynolds to examine the sensory experience of prison for prisoners and prison officials.

“The course looks at the experience of the senses, the conditions of the mind and the social relations within prisons,” says Reynolds. It uses the prison monitor as observer, which in Illinois is the John Howard Association.

“We started with their reports and approach,” Reynolds said. “We took field trips to tour Stateville and Pontiac prisons. We interviewed monitors. The students met a lot of ex-prisoners, wardens and officers.”

The goal is to use artistic and aesthetic approaches to study the prison system and think about how to represent it for policy change.

“The students conceived of ways to experience prison, and they would propose alternative or complementary methods of monitoring back to the monitors for the state of Illinois. They had an incredible conversation and dialogue with them.”

The interdisciplinary nature of the course made it “a fruitful think-tank-like experience,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds also teaches Art 190, Workshops in Social Practice, which draws students from a wide variety of majors.

She received her bachelor’s degree in public policy studies from Brown University and holds an M.A. from the University of Iowa and an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Before coming to UIC, she taught art and video at Columbia College and Loyola University and was a policy advocate in Illinois working to end solitary confinement at the Tamms Correctional Center, a 500-bed “supermax” facility for prisoners considered the most dangerous.

At UIC, she said, “I was able to walk into our well-designed art program, where students had years of instruction from stellar faculty.”

“Students are experienced in devising and answering their own research questions, because that is what art requires.”

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