Communication Workshops at Las Colinas Detention Center Provide Teaching Experience

December 3, 2023

Comm graduates at Las Colinas
Communication graduate students teaching the Communication Workshops at San Diego Sheriff's Department Las Colinas Detention & Reentry Center

San Diego State University's School of Communication workshops at the San Diego Sheriff's Department Las Colinas Women’s Detention & Reentry Center continue to thrive after seven successful years.

The program, founded in 2016, was paused in 2020 due to the pandemic and had a fully functional online presence in 2021. In 2023, under the Director of the Institute for Dialogue and Social Justice Dr. Tiffany A. Dykstra-DeVette, the program continues to find success in its second post-pandemic year.

Over the course of a five week program, SDSU graduate students teach students who are incarcerated skills that they can apply inside and outside the detention facility.

"The program is designed  to help “students to communicate more effectively in public speaking settings, in job interviews, when meeting with parole officers and Child Protective Services, and in interpersonal situations with children, friends, and family,” said Dykstra-DeVette

Over three semesters, incarcerated women complete modules, participate in written and oral communication projects, and receive their certificates of completion.

Annika Wong, research assistant at Las Colinas said “I feel like the most growth and learning come from the times that we are able to share our personal experiences with each other.”

“Through hearing their stories, I learn so much about empathy, the prison system, and the systems of power that impact us all differently,” Wong said. “While the content that we teach is very important, I believe that these relational components of the communication workshop have the greatest effect. The workshops help students to feel more confident, develop healthy conflict and relational skills, improve professional communication abilities, engage in critical thinking, and increase their awareness of communication and power inequalities in their lived experiences."

The SDSU graduate students, like Wong, are also benefiting from these workshops. “As current masters students, our work at Las Colinas provides us with unique teaching experience that will help us as we transition into jobs in academia,” Wong noted.

One particular success story has stuck out to Wong from her time at Las Colinas. One student disclosed that she was pre-literate ahead of classes beginning. “This concerned me because the communication workshop is structured in a way that requires a good amount of reading and writing,” Wong said.

Despite that, the student attended class the next day with several peers. She completed the entire course and was engaged throughout.

Wong shared that “on the last day, I was telling her how happy I was that she chose to stay in the class, and she shared that she had invited her friends to join so that they could help each other. They helped her read and write while she acted as a translator from English to Spanish for them.”

Success stories like this keep SDSU students passionate about educating these students and keeping an open dialogue about our criminal justice system. For more information, or to get involved, check out the School of Communication’s website.

Categorized As