Get to Know Our Summer Intern, Sophia Robohn

by Bernadette Rabuy, August 11, 2014

Sophia Robohn

Today, I had the opportunity to sit down with Sophia Robohn, a Hampshire College student who has been interning at Prison Policy Initiative. Read below to learn more about Sophia.

What brought you to Prison Policy Initiative?

I’m completing a Reproductive Rights Activist Service Corps (RRASC) internship through the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program at Hampshire College.

Can you tell me more about the internship program?

RRASC sends interns to disciplines that intersect with reproductive rights and gender equality. These disciplines include immigrant rights, local food, and education.

What are some of your interests?

I study medical anthropology and women’s health at Hampshire College. I am heavily involved in feminist studies and activism at Hampshire College as well as emergency medicine.

What projects have you been working on at Prison Policy Initiative?

I have started research on the way school boards district when they have prisons within their boundaries and how that affects the principle of “one person, one vote.” This has included calling everyone from school board secretaries to court judge executives to find district maps, population data, and how they use Census Bureau data to draw their districts.

Why are school boards important?

While there tends to be more interest in congressional districts, school boards can be more heavily impacted by redistricting. I have also seen the way that local politics interfere with school boards. At the end of the day, school boards are responsible for important tasks such as determining school budgets as well as curricula.

What has surprised you about the work you’ve done?

There is a widespread lack of knowledge on how places district and the history of redistricting among school boards. I’ve had superintendents ask me to send them their own district maps because they don’t have a copy. I’ve talked to school board secretaries who know nothing about how their school board is set up or elected.

What has been particularly challenging about the work?

The most difficult part about understanding how school districts work is knowing who to call and when to do so when it seems like you have run out of options. From that, I’ve learned that it’s important to find out if the school district used a demographer or if the district drew the lines themselves. Sometimes, this is in crayon or marker, making maps difficult to decipher. For example, Warrior Run School District in Union County, Pennsylvania has a map that is particularly hard to read and drawn in marker. For El Reno School District in Oklahoma, the map is on the back of a newspaper clipping and is over 20 years ago. Another challenge is finding the right words to say. For example, precinct can mean a polling place in one school district, and, in another school district, it can mean an actual district with boundaries. Terms vary by state and even by county.

What are some questions that you are still hoping to explore?

I’m hoping to learn more about why school boards choose districts over at-large representation in certain areas of the country.

Thank you for your time. Best of luck!

Thank you! I’m really excited about the work I did at Prison Policy Initiative this summer, and I will be on the lookout for future work on prison gerrymandering.

Thanks to Sophia, we will have updates coming soon to our Prisoners of the Census page. Stay tuned!

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