Some may describe Ashley Woods as unapologetic; but what’s most distinguishable about this burgeoning activist is her intellect and sensitivity. This October, Woods, 19, held a Mock Solitary Housing Unit (SHU) near the Bell Tower at Temple University. The demonstration was a form of protest to the inhumane punishment some prisoners endure by being placed alone in a small cell for 23 hours a day, otherwise known as solitary confinement.
The Mock SHU demonstrations began in 2011 by Princeton Students for Prison and Education Reform (SPEAR). “Solitary confinement is a pertinent and prominent issue. [It’s] a part of the prison industrial complex that some people tend to forget,” said Woods. In an effort to remind people, she started with the Temple community. Woods, a Social Work major, followed in the lead of Princeton SPEAR and reached out to her peers to join her in the demonstration which took place between October 17th and 18th.
Multiple participants with affiliations to Temple’s Black Student Union, Students for Justice in Palestine, Temple Area’s Feminist Collective and Silent Poets joined Woods in the demonstration. Woods taped off a 7 by 9 foot square near the bottom of the Paley Library steps and for 24 hours, multiple devoted volunteers took turns taking their place in the square despite rain and uncomfortably chilly temperatures.
Woods chose to abide by this form of bringing attention to Temple’s campus in the hopes that it would incite the curiosity of passerby. “I’m hoping people want to learn more and do more,” she says.
According to Solitary Watch, over 81,000 prisoners were confined to Restricted Housing Units in 2005. “It’s really important students fight for other people’s livelihood,” says Woods.
Prisoners aren’t the only group that can claim Woods as an advocate. “[I’m passionate about] any causes directly impacting my identity: black, queer, low income. I’m also a woman, so I try to get involved in causes that address all those simultaneously.” Which is why Woods was the perfect fit as the Community Service Chair for Queer People of Color (QPOC). “I felt compelled to take a leadership role on the Executive Board as Community Chair. Working from the perspective of a queer person of color, it makes my job easier in a sense. I like the people that come, I like the things they talk about,” she says.
Aside from orchestrating demonstrations and involvement with QPOC, Woods is also a Resident Assistant in White Hall and works at The Free Library of Philadelphia. “I love being a resource for students….With the RA position, [we’re] acting as a safe space for students. I really enjoy it and it’s something I want to do throughout the rest of my Temple career,” Woods says. Woods finds it easy to connect her residents and her strive to perfect the art of studenting places her on even more relatable level.
“[School] really is a balancing act. There’s so much you can do and so much you can’t do….School within itself the classes you take absolutely limits you. For me, it limits a lot of the activism I want to be involved in. I can’t be out and about in every protest and demonstration that I want to go to. Sometimes I really just can’t miss class. Even though I think what I’m fighting for is a little more important than this intro level Poli Sci class,” Woods laughs. “But you know, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do….Recognizing your wants from your needs, that’s hard. I realize that more and more every day.”
While maintaining productivity and sanity is a strife for many students, Woods makes sure to achieve this in spite of her many obligations. “I take time to step back and reboot and work on myself and recognize when things are getting kind of hectic and problematic and I need to reevaluate my activities,” Woods says.
Woods is continually gravitating towards activism and isn’t likely to part from it anytime soon. If she could communicate one thing to the world, it would be to simply pay attention.
“Do your own research and don’t necessarily trust what’s initially given to you. Pay attention to the way things are taught to you. Don’t be afraid to dig deeper and go beyond what’s surface level,” she says. After graduation, Woods hopes to either attend law school or obtain a Master’s Degree in Social Work.