Making Their Voices Heard
At the beginning of the fall 2019 semester, Nelson undertook an independent study project at the Delaware Center for Justice, a criminal-justice reform institution in Wilmington, and worked alongside the director of the School Offense Diversion Program. The program works to help students who have been funneled into the juvenile justice system at a young age, often for minor, nonviolent offenses. This phenomenon, which drastically increases the students’ likelihood of reincarceration as both juveniles and adults, is often referred to as the “school-to-prison pipeline.”
Nelson worked to document, via a podcast, the experiences of Delaware students caught in the pipeline. She hopes to continue this work in the future, creating in-school diversion programs that resolve conflicts before students are charged — “reimagining the school discipline process to work for kids, not against them,” she said.
She has presented her findings to the Wilmington Civic Advisory Council and the Louis Redding Consortium for Educational Equity. The data she has gathered has influenced strategic planning at the Delaware Center for Justice.
The personal accounts that Nelson has documented in her podcast have the potential to effect lasting legislative change, and she says she will continue to make sure that these voices are heard. “These are the kids I grew up with,” she said.
Nelson’s capacity for empathy has found additional creative outlets since then. In fall 2019, she worked with fellow Wilmington AAP student Nada Abuasi to compose a voice-over poem for a video documentary produced by Daniel Mpilo Richards, visiting artist at UD and the A.I. DuPont Hospital for Children, chronicling the experiences of the hospital’s pediatric patients.
Nelson has personal insight into that world: In high school, she was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune disorder that can cause a multitude of health problems, from hypothyroidism to potentially fatal neurological complications. While her condition is now well managed, she still clearly remembers her experiences with the illness and wanted to give a voice to children dealing with their own health problems.
As she prepares to transition to UD’s main campus in Newark for the fall 2020 semester, Nelson looks forward to further work with the northern Delaware community.
“I have chosen a communication major with a minor in journalism so I can advocate for others who are unable to advocate for themselves,” she said.
She has the support of UD President Dennis Assanis in doing so. “Maggie has emerged as one of UD’s exceptional student leaders in the field of community engagement,” Assanis said. “Her ability to understand and honor experiences outside hers and her passion for providing concrete opportunities and voices for people inform her academic preparation to use investigative journalism to create change.”
Article: David Teague and Erin Tanner
Photos: M. Nelson; Suchat Peterson, Delaware Online