The University Record, October 9, 1995

FACULTY AWARDS: William R. Alexander, Regents’ Award for Distinguished Public Service

William R. Alexander is unequivocally committed to making a difference in the community by using the power of the pen and the strength of drama to transform lives, both on campus and in places where only the most daring care to go. His work with prison inmates and at-risk youth exemplifies what can happen when an extraordinary individual confronts an extraordinary task.

Since 1990, Professor Alexander has been working with faculty and students to direct theater workshops in Michigan correctional facilities. More recently, the focus has expanded to include one Detroit high school and two juvenile detention centers.

Professor Alexander and his English 310 and 319 students help inmates, public school students, and at-risk youth develop their own dramatic material. Often the work focuses on such serious issues as addiction, drug trafficking, AIDS, the effects of extended incarceration, family relations, and parole. Once a body of material is developed in the form of scenes and monologues, Professor Alexander’s English students guide the actors in developing character, staging, and vocal strength to create a polished performance. These theatrical experiences help participants—inmates and at-risk high school students—find strengths, skills, and an inner voice many never realized they possessed.

In what he hopes will be a model for other institutions, Professor Alexander is now working on an interactive video experience between inmates from the Western Wayne Correctional Facility and at-risk youth from the Adult Basic Education Program at Henry Ford High School as well as youth from the Adrian Training School. The first part of this interactive videotape project began with Inside Out, a play about making decisions. The play was collectively created by the prisoners to be videotaped and shown to the youth. The response of the youth audience to the play was videotaped and then played back to the prisoners. The interactive process has continued, with the prison actors and the youth communicating through video exchange. Professor Alexander believes theater can lead to healing, self-discovery, and the working through of life problems, especially when the theater experience is followed by dialogue, analysis, and careful counseling.

Professor Alexander, who joined the Department of English 24 years ago, brings a level of commitment and integrity to his work in the classroom and community that is inspiring; his students learn about language and literature, and personal responsibility, commitment, and fulfillment. He has received many awards, including the Distinguished Service Award, the Amoco Good Teaching Award, and a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship for his research on community-based theater, video, and film.

Professor Alexander’s perfection of theater workshops and its application in a prison setting is an excellent example of how academic knowledge can be shared in a community. Recognizing his unselfish dedication and commitment to his students and to community service, the University is proud to present William Alexander with the Regents’ Award for Distinguished Public Service.