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Why am I here? An open letter to students

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Dear students,

I read Paula’s Friday message last week and it was sobering, but academic engagement is not just about attendance. It’s about doing the reading (and enjoying it because it’s interesting!), it’s about being passionate about social justice, it’s about engaging in conversations with lecturers and your peers. In my view, we are all criminologists – the only difference between you and I is that I have more experience of studying, reading and research. We are here to do the same thing – while students are writing assessments and revising for exams, lecturers are writing theses and papers, or revising their upcoming conference presentations.

Presumably we are all here voluntarily and because we have a shared interest. With the salary of a lecturer, I’m certainly not here for the money. I’m here because around a decade ago I fell into criminology and fell in love with it. I decided in my late 20s to return to education. I’d had my children when I was young so hadn’t done my A-levels so to get into university I had to do an Access course. I was required to select three subjects and I chose English literature, sociology and history. At the very last minute, I swapped history for criminology and here I am. I went straight onto university to complete my undergraduate, Master and now PhD, all in criminology. Why? Because it’s interesting – what’s not to love?

Criminology has broadened my horizons. It challenges my thinking on a daily basis. It has helped my to challenge my assumptions of others. One of the best things about teaching is when I read an essay and a student has proposed an argument that I had not considered before, or when one of you makes a point in a workshop that challenges me – after all, I don’t know everything. These are some of the moments that bring me joy at work. So, I challenge you to speak and write with confidence, to think critically and for yourself.

In the criminology team, we all have our own research interests covering a diverse range of topics. We would welcome you to visit us during our drop in hours to talk about our interests and research. Many who have been taught by me know that I am interested in border criminology which in my case stemmed from my interest in victimology and mass violence. Genocide and mass violence interest me and I wanted to learn more about the impact on victims, so I research asylum seekers – people who have fled conflict and persecution.

Having heard first hand some of the stories of people fleeing persecution, I am passionate about doing what I can to help – as most criminologists are. In criminology, we identify problems, offer solutions, call out injustices and enter into dialogue. For me, this means speaking to others about asylum seekers and challenging assumptions about them. It means submitting evidence to the Home Office when called for, knowing said evidence will be ignored. It means working with third sector organisations to offer help and support, and Jessica James and I are currently setting up a local supporter group for Freedom From Torture to support their work providing psychological help for torture survivors. It means writing blogs, journal articles and book chapters on the subject to help inform others of my research findings.

Being a criminologist is not just about writing assessments – they won’t make you a criminologist. To become a criminologist, you need to engage beyond essays and exams. Ask yourself, what are you interested in? What drew you to criminology? What do you want to learn more about?

I’m sure I am speaking on behalf of the team when I say we would love to spend more time discussing criminology. We are all passionate not only about our research areas, but about criminology as a whole. Tell us what you want to see, to learn, to talk about. Would you attend research seminars or film screenings, a book club (I would love a criminology book club – please email if you’re interested!), criminology themed social nights with lecturers and students present. We could even discuss and plan activist events – I have been known to attend the occasional demonstration outside immigration detention centres (see image above from the evening the first Rwanda flight was planned). Our doors and our ears are open. We want you to find your passion in criminology.


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