Community Scholar Highlight: Reverend Vivian Nixon Focuses on Education and the American Prison System

April 18, 2017

Columbia Community Scholar Reverend Vivian Nixon is executive director of College and Community Fellowship (CCF), an organization committed to removing individual and structural barriers to higher education for women with criminal record histories and for their families. As a formerly incarcerated woman and prior CCF program participant, Reverend Vivian Nixon is uniquely positioned to lead the charge to help justice-involved women and their families have a better future. Rev. Nixon is the second community scholar to address the greater campus community through the School of Professional Studies Community Scholars Lecture Program. John Reddick, another member of the first cohort of scholars, was the inaugural speaker, presenting on Black and Jewish music in Harlem from 1890 to 1930. At her lecture Rev. Nixon discussed the historic complexities of America’s systems of punishment and its links to race, class, gender, political suppression, and religion. She explored how access to higher education can not only deter crime and have rehabilitative impact, but also spark the kind of political and social awareness that leads to true freedom.

While incarcerated, Rev. Nixon spent time as a peer educator for the adult basic education program at Albion State Correctional Facility in New York. Following her release, she was ordained by the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AMEC) and currently serves as an associate minister at Mt. Zion AMEC in New York City. She was a part of the first cohort of Columbia University Community Scholars and a recipient of the John Jay Medal for Justice, the Ascend Fellowship at the Aspen Institute, the Soros Justice Fellowship, and the Petra Foundation Fellowship. She is a cofounder of the Education from the Inside Out Coalition (EIO), a collaborative effort to increase access to higher education for justice-involved students, and serves on the advisory board of JustLeadershipUSA. Rev. Nixon holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the State University of New York Empire College. 

The Columbia Community Scholars Program, administered by the Office of Government and Community Affairs and the School of Professional Studies in conjunction with the Office of the Provost, enables Upper Manhattan scholars to pursue their lifelong learning aspirations, whether it be completing an independent project or attaining skills in a particular area. The program helps to foster and deepen ties between the University and the many independent members of the cultural and intellectual community surrounding it.

This article was originally published in the Spring 2017 issue of The Columbia Newsletter.