LSA senior Alex Bryan pretended to die three times on the Diag on Tuesday.

Between deaths, Bryan, dressed in an orange jumpsuit, paced the short length of his makeshift cell and yelled at passersby. Then, every hour between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., Bryan was led from his cell to his mock execution by lethal injection.

Bryan was protesting convicted murderer Jerome Henderson’s actual execution, carried out that day in Ohio.

A group of students in English Prof. Buzz Alexander’s class on the representation and reality of prison organized the event.

The dramatized execution was one of many displays of student activism that have recently come out of Alexander’s classes.

The projects are strictly student-led, Alexander said.

Alexander, who founded the Prison Creative Arts Project, focuses many of his classes on the plight of American prisoners. The project takes students into Michigan prisons to work with inmates on art projects.

Demonstration organizer Adrian Griffin said the group on the Diag orchestrated the display to draw students’ attention to an issue often ignored in Michigan because the state does not use capital punishment.

Alexander’s students organized another demonstration on the Diag yesterday in which they handcuffed themselves together, forming a human chain across the brass ‘M.’ From 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., the chain stretched across the Diag. Protesters shouted out statistics about the criminal justice system.

“Seventy-two percent of all illicit drug users are white,” one chain member yelled. “Yet blacks constitute 58 percent of those incarcerated for drug felonies.”

Chain members talked with those who stopped to watch, explaining that they feel the penitentiary system neglects the rights of prisoners and fails to rehabilitate offenders.

At about noon, the chain of students and a woman who had been incarcerated for more than 30 years had a tense exchange with a student who said their sympathy for convicts was unfounded.

The student shouted that a 17-year-old had stabbed her boyfriend. She said the offender should have been tried as an adult despite his age.

The protesters argued that the perpetrator should receive psychological help.

Some members of the chain wore signs around their necks tallying the days they had been fasting for.

LSA senior Karen Soell said 60 students tried to limit themselves to 600 calories a day for one to 10 days as an act of empathy for a hunger strike taking place in a Texas prison.

Soell had been fasting for nine days.

Some of the public displays were developed as final projects for Alexander’s classes. Students organized yesterday’s demonstration, the fast and a student group called Students for Justice outside of class requirements.

Although his classrooms are often a birthplace for activism, Alexander said he doesn’t play a commanding role.

Instead, the activist projects came out of student discussion in Alexander’s English 411 and University Courses 270 classes.

“I trust (my students) to really think about the issues and to talk to each other,” Alexander said. “Out of this emerges people who take charge.”

Students described an atmosphere unlike other classes they’ve had. They said Alexander rarely lectures. Instead, he allows students to pose opening questions and invites guest speakers.

Several students said they plan to continue social justice activism after classes end. Alexander said this is only natural.

“They just don’t go out and do a random project,” Alexander said. “When you do a project, you think about it after – about how it affects your life.”

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