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Critical Issues Forums

Wrongful Convictions. Human Trafficking. Genocide in Darfur. Local and World Hunger.

TCNJ students attend a Critical Issues Forum hosted by the Bonner Center.

These are all critical issues that require more of our time, energy and skills. The Bonner Center aims to spark more debate and action around important public issues each year. As a result, students and staff create opportunities for compelling speakers to visit campus and share their message to the community.Critical Issues Forums 2012-2013 Academic School Year

Mental Health & Exposure to Violence – March 21, 2013

On March 21st, the Bonner Center hosted a panel of five individuals with expertise in the area of youth violence and mental health to discuss the mental health ramifications for exposure to violence at a young age. Research over the last 15 years has shown a strong correlation between exposure to violence and mental health symptoms as well as aggressive, violent behavior. The panel included Larry Davis, Director of Urban Alternatives Solutions, a local organization that provides mental health services; Dr. Sandy Gibson of the TCNJ Department of Counselor Education; Wanda Moore, Assistant Attorney General, Office of the New Jersey Attorney General; Dr. Roger Mitchell, Jr., Regional Medical Examiner’s Office; and Eugene Thomas, Founder of Buried Treasures.

Violence, whether domestic, neighborhood, or school-related, can be severely traumatic for an individual. Healthy child development is primarily defined by a sense of safety and security. Children who are exposed to violence may end up developing behavioral and psychological problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety disorders, and personality disorders. The critical issues forum aims to raise awareness about the issue, help remove the stigma towards youth suffering from mental health and behavioral issues, as well as provide alternatives to incarcerating and help to promote and inspire changes to existing policies concerning youth delinquency.

The forum grew out of a collaborate effort among the TCNJ Bonner Center, the Trenton Prevention Policy Board (TPPB) and the Mercer County Reentry Task Force. The TPPB is a grassroots effort, supported by the Attorney General’s Office, that aims to reduce juvenile crime and promote positive youth development in Trenton. Local stakeholders gather together to share their knowledge about policies, programs, services and best practices so they can make informed recommendations to municipal, county and state officials. For more information, visit The Mercer County Reenry Task Force is a collaboration of stakeholders from government, business, social services and faith-based organizations whose joint focus is effectively connecting formerly incarcerated individuals to the community. The Bonner Center helps to facilitate the TPPB and provides staffing support to the Mercer Reentry Task Force.

Critical Issues Forums – 2011-2012 Academic School Year

Employment Barriers for Individuals with Records – April 5, 2012

On April 5th, the Bonner Center brought together members of the community, nonprofit service-providers, state government officials, as well as faculty, students and staff from TCNJ to discuss the issue of prisoner reentry with a specific focus on employment barriers. The conversation focused on identifying some of these barriers, including the Federal Drug Ban, the Comprehensive Drug Act, child support arrears, license suspensions, employer misconceptions and many more. The group also discussed opportunities for action and several action-steps that could be taken by individuals and organizations present at the meeting to address the issue. The action steps were divided into three categories based on “who” would be the driver of action – The College of New Jersey, the community or a state-wide coalition or organization.

While there were many people and organizations in attendance, the Bonner Center would like to recognize the following individuals who attended the forum as panelists: Curtis Buck, alumnus of Albert C. Wagner Youth Correctional Facility; William Keep, Ph.D., Dean of the School of Business at The College of New Jersey (TCNJ); Micah Khan, Director of Operations for The Nehemiah Group; Vertulie Massenat, Democracy Fellow & Education Enrichment Coordinator at the Bonner Center; Perry Shaw, III, Executive Director of A Better Way; Bruce Stout, Ph.D., Professor of Criminology at TCNJ; Tracey Syphax, CEO of Capital City Construction, LLC and author of From the Block to the Boardroom; and Leonard Ward, Director of Community Programs for the New Jersey State Parole Board. Patrick Donohue, Director of the Bonner Center and Herb Levine, Executive Director of the Mercer Alliance to End Homelessness and Chair of the Mercer County Reentry Task Force co-facilitated the conversation. Ryan Gale, a Senior Criminology major at TCNJ and Bonner Scholar, presented research on ex-offender employment in New Jersey.

The event was very well attended by students as well as members of the community, including ex-offenders, several service providing organizations, and other individuals interested in prisoner reentry. Bonner Center staff, students, and partners are currently drafting a white paper to document the discussion and establish concrete action steps that the TCNJ Bonner-partner network will implement in the future.

Prisoner Education: Challenges and Responses – February 21, 2012

On February 21st, community members and students attended a forum discussion on prisoner education in the state of New Jersey. Student presentations on the scope of the problem the discussion, including the fact that the average reading comprehension for individuals in prison is at a 6th-grade level and the average math skills are at a 5th-grade level, kicked off the discussion. Pat Donohue, Director of the Bonner Center then led the roundtable-like discussion on current policy in New Jersey and the challenges faced by the various agencies that provide educational services to inmates.

TCNJ Bonner Center hosts forums focused on prisoner reentry.

The Bonner Center was incredibly pleased to have a wonderful group of panelists that shared a wealth of information regarding the topic. Jecrois Jean-Baptiste, Director of the Office of Educational Services and Alfred Kandell, Administrator of A.C. Wagner Youth Correctional Facility represented the Department of Corrections and Lenny Ward, Director of the Division of Community Programs, represented the State Parole Board. Margaret Atkins, of the Integrated Justice Alliance, shared her experiences in working with prisoner education, particularly in drafting and promoting legislation in 2009 that has since come to define how educational services are administered by the DOC. Tracey Syphax, CEO & President of Capital City Construction shared his experiences as a formerly incarcerated citizen, and his subsequent success following his time in prison. Finally, Dr. Celia Chazelle, co-director of the Center for Prison Outreach and Education, and Dr. Robert McGreevey shared their knowledge from working directly in A.C. Wagner as providers of education to inmate students.

Students added greatly to the conversation by sharing their experiences at Bonner Scholars and asking important questions that fueled the conversation. Bonner Center staff, students, and partners are currently drafting a white paper to document the discussion and establish concrete action steps that the TCNJ Bonner-partner network will implement in the future.

Project P.R.I.D.E. – January 24, 2012

On January 24th, over 300 TCNJ students and members of the community packed Mayo Concert Hall to hear incarcerated individuals speak about their experiences both before and during their time in prison. Project P.R.I.D.E. (Promoting Responsibility in Drug Education) brings minimum custody offenders, escorted by correction officers, into schools or other agencies to talk about their personal experiences with drugs and alcohol. Although the program is generally geared towards middle and high school ages, the program has come to campus for the past couple of years with overwhelming attendance on the part of TCNJ students.

Michael Ritter, the coordinator of Project P.R.I.D.E. and a TCNJ alumnus, introduced the two individuals from the corrections system and facilitated a question and answer session following the presentations. Several individuals who have subsequently left the New Jersey state prison system and have found substantial success in their lives also presented their stories to the audience, including Curtis Buck, who was a student in one of the courses taught by Dr. Robert McGreevey in A.C. Wagner Youth Correctional Facility. TCNJ has partnered with Wagner to have credit-bearing courses taught inside the facility to TCNJ and inmate students. The Center for Prison Outreach and Education (CPOE) on TCNJ’s campus, along with the Bonner Center for Civic and Community Engagement have been very involved and dedicated to bringing educational opportunities to individuals in the state prison system within the Greater Mercer County area.

Following the event, Teach for America, CPOE, and the Bonner Center held a volunteer fair in the lobby of the Music Building. Over 60 new TCNJ students signed up to volunteer in the prison with CPOE students and Bonner Scholars.  The Bonner Center continues to be dedicated to raising awareness on campus and in the community regarding this, and many other issues facing the region.

Critical Issues Forums – 2010-2011 Academic School Year

In 2010, 700 individuals packed Kendall Hall to hear Ronald Cotton and Jennifer Thompson tell their story of a wrongful conviction, forgiveness and hope. The authors of the best-selling Picking Cotton helped everyone understand the causes of wrongful convictions-with the help of Professor Lynn Goedecke-and they inspired everyone to overcome obstacles to make positive changes in the world.

Also in 2010, Minh Dang spoke to a full Mayo Hall audience about her personal story as a sex slave; sold into a horrendous experience by her own parents while living in the United States. A graduate of the University of California at Berkely and a leader of the Bonner Program at that institution, Minh helped the audience understand that human trafficking is not only an international problem; but one that can be found in our own backyards.

These forums were both part of the Center’s new Community Engaged Learning Speaker Series.