Mount Tamalpais is the name of a mountain, the largest and most visible geographic feature in Marin County, that stands roughly five miles from San Quentin State Prison. When we began the process of seeking accreditation in 2018, as the Prison University Project, we looked forward to the prospect of adopting a new name—one that would allow us to step forward confidently as an independent college after nearly 25 years operating in partnership with an external institution. We are so grateful for the contributions of the students and alumni, along with staff, board members, and advisors who participated in this process.
We adopt Mount Tamalpais as our namesake with the utmost respect for its significance to the people who live in its presence now, and to those who have for millennia, the Coast Miwok. For us, the mountain is a powerful symbol of hope and strength that connects members of our community, both inside and outside of San Quentin State Prison.
Mount Tamalpais is the largest geographic feature in the region. It's visible from both inside and outside of San Quentin State Prison, which opened in 1852. The two have existed in close proximity for 168 years.
From inside the yard at San Quentin State Prison, the mountain serves a positive psychological purpose for some—allowing them to maintain a visual connection with the physical world outside the prison walls. Outside the prison, Mount Tamalpais is one of the most ubiquitous references in the area; businesses and institutions across Marin county have adopted its name. It is thus something significant that the inside and outside communities share.
Mountains evoke timelessness, strength, achievement, hope, and are often associated with educational institutions for these reasons. Much like scaling a mountain, education gives you perspective; offers opportunities for adventure; makes your world bigger, and allows you to achieve meaningful, ambitious goals. Former students often recount the experience of climbing Mount Tamalpais and looking down at San Quentin, and finding that this perspective helps shift their relationship to the prison as a place.
Mt. Tamalpais photo (top of page) by Thanksfor2.5millionviews, Flickr.