Mitten professor Aseltine examines intersection of criminal justice, higher education

By Rebecca Kirkman on August 23, 2021

Three-year position in the College of Liberal Arts supports faculty research, engaged teaching

Woman stands in front of lynching memorial sign and former Baltimore County jail
Associate professor Elyshia Aseltine, standing beside a historic marker outside of the old Baltimore County jail in Towson recently installed by the Maryland Lynching Memorial Project, will bring opportunities for the Towson University community to explore race and criminal justice as the Martha A. Mitten Professor. (Photo: Lauren Castellana)

The College of Liberal Arts (CLA) has awarded its next Martha A. Mitten Professorship to Elyshia Aseltine, an associate professor in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology & Criminal Justice.

The Mitten professorship emphasizes effective teaching, productive scholarship and impactful contributions to student experiences. Faculty members who hold the three-year position receive support from the college as they pursue a long-term project.

Aseltine plans to deepen her existing scholarship surrounding criminal justice reform and racial equity, involving TU faculty, students and the wider community in the process. 

Since joining TU in 2012, Aseltine has increased opportunities for TU students and faculty to be involved in the civic life of the Baltimore region through initiatives like the Inside Out Prison Exchange Program, which brings incarcerated students and college students together for a term-long course held inside a correctional institution, and the Fair Chance Higher Education initiative, which focuses on building campus infrastructure to support justice-impacted students.

Her work has grown with the support of emerging and priority investments through BTU—Partnerships for Greater Baltimore and a $60,000 fellowship from the Open Society Institute—Baltimore in 2019.

The Martha A. Mitten professor is selected through a process that includes nomination by colleagues, application by interested candidates, committee review and recommendation by the dean to the provost.

“This year’s list of nominees was very competitive, which is a testament to the high quality of work being done in the college to the benefit of our students and the communities we work and research in in a wide range of disciplines,” says CLA Dean Chris Chulos. 

In her first year of the professorship, which begins this fall, Aseltine will develop plans for a study-away program focused on race and punishment in the U.S., with visits to the first national memorial for lynching victims; the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama; and the Louisiana State Penitentiary. 

“Each of these sites offer important insights into the historical—and contemporary—relationship between race and punishment in the U.S.,” Aseltine says. “Having led study-away courses in the past, I can attest to the significant impact that these experiences have on the students who participate. They absorb course material with heightened interest and urgency, their worldviews become expanded and more nuanced, and they imagine new possibilities for their academic and career trajectories.”

She will also develop and lead an Inside Out experience for TU faculty members, with several opportunities for them to be involved in shortened versions of the traditional student experience in spring 2022. 

In the second year, Aseltine will coordinate a series of courses examining incarceration and prisons through unique disciplines from sociology to the arts, culminating in a campus-wide event allowing participants to share what they learned with the community. In the final year, she hopes to host an on-campus, regional conference on prisons and the intersections with higher educational institutions. In addition to producing an edited journal of research, Aseltine hopes the conference builds lasting connections.

“My hope is that facilitating connections between faculty and community members will result in new opportunities for collaborative research and innovative courses and lay the foundation for a regional coalition focused on issues surrounding higher education and incarceration,” she says.

Funded by a bequest from Martha A. Mitten ’33 to benefit teaching and learning at Towson University, the professorship supports a faculty member who best exemplifies CLA’s goals of excellence in teaching, productive scholarship and positive service. 

A Baltimore City native, Mitten (then Martha Alford) was one of the first recipients of the Maryland State Normal School’s three-year diploma and an engaged student, serving as senior social chairman in her final year. Following graduation, she pursued a teaching career in Baltimore City. 

When the long-time educator and friend to TU died in May 2006, the university learned of her generous estate gift, a portion of which established the Martha A. Mitten Professorship, the first endowed professorship for CLA.

Previous Mitten professors include English professor Jennifer Ballengee, anthropology professor Matthew Durington and psychology professor Bethany Brand.
Mitten’s prior gifts to TU include one in 2002 to establish the Martha A. Mitten Memorial Scholarship Endowment for CLA students.