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Kids in prison, health and wellness among Chautauqua class offerings

In August, Associate Professor Mark Blegen will present “Why We Eat, Why We Don't Exercise, and Why We Should Make Health a Priority.”
In August, Associate Professor Mark Blegen will present “Why We Eat, Why We Don't Exercise, and Why We Should Make Health a Priority.”
Photo by Rebecca Zenefski '10.

St. Catherine University’s second annual Summer Chautauqua offers over 45 classes and events August 8–15. Class topics range from art and literature to science and technology, and everything in between.

Here’s a preview of three classes:

School House to Jail House track  

There are currently 2.2 million people in prison or jail in the United States — a 500 percent increase over the last three decades.

This disproportionately affects people of color. According to the Children’s Defense Fund–Minnesota and The Sentencing Project, 1 in 3 black boys and 1 in 6 Latino boys born since 2001 are at risk of imprisonment in their lifetime. While markedly better, the numbers are still startling for white boys — with 1 in 17 are expected to serve prison time.

“It’s a justice issue, it’s an ethical issue and it’s an issue that the mission of St. Kate’s calls us to address,” says Nancy Heitzeg, professor of sociology and co-director of Critical Studies on Race and Ethnicity at St. Catherine University.

Heitzeg is tackling this issue in her Chautauqua class, “School to Prison Pipeline, How We Lost a Generation” on Aug. 9. She says that while the term “school to prison pipeline” is a relatively new one (within the last decade or so), it’s a social phenomenon that’s reaching epidemic proportions.  Nancy Heitzeg

Part of the cause is related to changes in educational policies — particularly zero tolerance, which has led to elevated dropout and “pushout” rates, explains Heitzeg.

“We currently have educational policies that are explicitly geared toward blocking off opportunities for kids early on and specifically tracking them toward a life in jail — really without any indication that there’s a behavioral reason for it,” she says.

Heitzeg’s work on this issue garnered a Faculty Research and Scholarly Activities grant, “Confronting the Prison Industrial Complex: A Campus and Community Collaboration,” and led to a community forum in June held in a neighborhood heavily impacted by mass incarceration.  

Heitzeg hopes that Chautauqua class participants will come away with tangible action steps they can take to interrupt the School to Prison Pipeline.     

“We’ll talk about a series of policy recommendations that people can address at the school, community and legislative levels.”

 Health and Wellness            

Life balance is often talked about, but the definition of what it means can differ wildly. Kathleen Matuska aims to clear this up at her Chautauqua class, “Life Balance in Today’s World” on Aug. 14.

“It’s not what people think — that there’s a prescribed amount of balance required between rest, work and play. It’s really less about how much time you spend doing something and more about whether these four basic needs are being met,” says Matuska, director of St. Kate's Master of Arts in Occupational Therapy program.

The four basic lifestyle needs Matuska refers to include activities that contribute to your overall health, positive and rewarding relationships, sense of identity and intellectual challenge. But how people arrive at balancing those activities can vary.

“For instance, your relationships could be strong, you could be getting good exercise and experiencing good physical health, but your job is so boring you can hardly stand it,” she explains. “So you need to find some kind of challenge to fill that gap.”

Beyond addressing life balance and steps towards achieving it, Matuska will share the research to demonstrate why it’s important. An online Life Balance Inventory is available for participants interested in the class.

While friends play an important role in achieving life balance, they aren’t always a good influence. The next time you step on the scale and are alarmed by what you see, you may just have your friends to blame — at least partially.

“Friends are a wonderful part of our lives, but did you know they play a subtle and powerful influence in how much we eat? Ever go to a social gathering like a Chautauqua and eat more than anticipated?,” says Mark Blegen, associate professor and director of the exercise and sports science program, and co-director of the Women's Health Integrated Research (WHIR) Center at St. Kate’s.

Blegen is teaching the Chautauqua class “Interesting Thoughts on Why We Eat, Why We Don’t Exercise, and Why We Should Make Our Health a Priority” on Aug. 15.

Of course, there are other factors at play besides friends, but in the end, poor eating habits combined with lack of exercise will add up to health problems. Blegen plans to address these issues and review how to make your health a top priority again.

Class and Event Registration

Other Chautauqua class topics include literature and writing, music theater, human trafficking, world cultures and travel, and more. This year’s event also offers more family friendly activities including birdhouse building, STEM robotics, Irish Ceili dance, an ice cream social, and a Girls Leadership Track.

Chautauqua offerings are open to alumnae, students, faculty, staff and the greater community.

The cost is $20 per class for one to three classes, $17 per class for four to seven classes and $15 per class for eight or more classes. The Girls Leadership Track is $40 per class for a child/adult duo, or $175 for the entire series.

Tickets for opening and closing events are $10 for adults and $5 for children. Prices vary for other family-friendly events.

For more information or to register, visit

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July 3, 2012 by Sharon Rolenc

See also: Alumnae/i, Arts, Education, Healthcare, Liberal Arts, Social Justice, STEM