Does earning a degree in Criminology/Criminal Justice help someone get away with murder?

The recent arrest of Criminology graduate student Bryan Kohberger as the suspected murderer of four University of Idaho students prompted some people, including members of the news media, to ask if earning a degree in Criminology (the study of the causes and effects of crime) or Criminal Justice (the analysis of the dynamics of law enforcement, courts, corrections, and juvenile justice) motivates someone to “commit a crime and/or believe that they can get away with murder/homicide.”

Although there’s some logic to this question, the short answer is maybe, but not likely.

Why? There are about four interrelated reasons that cast doubt on this kind of reasoning.

First, earning a degree in a particular academic field doesn’t mean that the recipient of said achievement is going to use the knowledge they acquired or skills they mastered to engage in deviant or criminal behavior. If this was the case, then more pharmacy students would become drug manufacturers and dealers, structural engineering students would intentionally build inferior bridges, etc.

Second, every year lots of students earn undergraduate, masters, and doctoral degrees in the fields of Criminology/Criminal Justice. Very few of them, however, commit crimes, not to mention murder. If the pursuit of or earning of a degree in Criminology/Criminal Justice enabled students or graduates to get away with murder, then we would probably see a lot more people fitting this description arrested and charged with homicide (or other types of newsworthy crimes). (Which is not the case). I would also argue that the average Criminology/Criminal justice student is more interested catching bad guys (and women) and assisting victims of crime, then using this knowledge to “commit the perfect murder.”

Third, there are many reasons why people commit murder, and an even smaller number of them who believe that they are smart enough or have the appropriate knowledge or skills to outwit homicide investigators, judges and juries. I’d even speculate that there is an even smaller number of people who think or believe that they can get away with murder because of their knowledge or mastery of forensic science (i.e., the collection and scientific analysis of legal evidence).

Fourth, almost all people who engage in murder and believe that they will get away with the crime, are NOT in the process of earning an advanced degree in criminology/criminal justice.

Where does this leave us?

Although it’s important and interesting to ask provocative questions about perpetrators’ motivations, the public, especially the news media, need to move beyond simplistic thinking and assume that there is some deeper complex rationale why people engage is extreme kinds of human behavior like murder.

Photo Credit
Title: Crime Scene Investigations 990 / North Las Vegas Police CSI
Photographer: TDelCoro

How I procrastinated on major projects in 2022

Another year is almost in the bag and, in general, I’m happy with how things worked out. Yes, I failed to make good on a number of commitments to myself and others, but things are going to be different in 2023. I promise.

One thing I’m proud of is that while I dragged my feet on a handful of projects, I’ve managed to stay true to my goal of writing one blog post a week. This was a challenge I set for my self in the spring of 2020, as a writing and journaling exercise to help keep me sane as the world shut down. Though things have more or less opened up fully again (for better or for worse), I’ve decided to keep this blog project going.

Over the past year, in addition to teaching, departmental/college/university/various learned society service, and engaging in scholarly research I continued to blog on a regular basis. I thought it would be fun to look back on what’s resonated. Maybe you’ll find this exercise interesting too.

Here are the ten most popular blog posts (according to google analytics) ranked from least to most active, with a little self reflection,.

10. The downsides of commodifying Street Culture

Street culture remains one my core interests and a lot of things about it continue to resonate with me. But in a field that encourages creativity, experimentation, and thinking outside of the box, I’m often struck with just how many people and entities (mainly businesses) narrowly circumscribe the field as graffiti, street art, and street wear. Undoubtedly a lot of this interpretation has been fueled by the recent NFT craze, but the field is so much more than this broadly popular connotation. With this sentiment in mind, I wrote the blog post.

9. Helping Formerly Incarcerated people get into respectable graduate programs in Criminology/Criminal Justice

As one of the founders of Convict Criminology (CC), I think that it is important to periodically remind others about the major goals of this approach/methodology. CC rests on the pillars of scholarly research, academic mentoring, and political activism. However it’s also important to explain how established members of CC can assist formerly incarcerated people get into respectable graduate programs and help them to succeed once they have been admitted. This post and other similar ones on CC are being integrated in to a book that I am working on.

8. Misapplying appropriation, co-optation, commodification and fetishization

As I scour social media and some scholarly research I’m often interested by how/why intelligent people, often under the cloak of political activism, who seem to have failed to do their homework and settle for superficial understandings of the concepts of appropriation, co-optation, commodification and fetishization. This piece attempts to explore these nuances.

7. Sins of omission? Why do researchers neglect to review or cite relevant scholarship, but reviewers and editors accept this material for publication?

Lots of people write, and some base their work on scholarly research. But more frequent than not, scholars manage to get their work published in a variety of academic venues and editors and reviewers fail do their due diligence. Thus work gets published that is superficial at best. Yes I know it is getting tougher. People don’t want to review but sheesh.

6. Quitting academia: Is the grass really greener on the other side?

During the COVID 19 pandemic my social media feed contained lots of posts from disgruntled graduate students and untenured or recently tenured faculty complaining about the toxic working conditions of academia. I get it. There are lots of other professions that are better than working as a professor at a university. That being said, reading some of the posts I was often surprised not at how well they could document the bullshit that academics have to put up with, but with what I saw was the lack of viable or coherent alternatives.

5. Painting without permission: Graffiti & Street Art as a response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine

Every contemporary crisis seems to bring with it new types of graffiti and street art. We are reminded that graffiti in principle and street art, to a lesser extent, are a weapon of the weak. The Russian invasion of Ukraine brought death and destruction, and was also accompanied by a new wave of wall art (i.e., graffiti and street art) not just in the Ukraine, but in Russia and surrounding countries. This blog post attempts to make sense out of this creative work.

4. Why do some cities appear to have more graffiti and street art than others?

Although I’m not unique, I frequently travel outside of Washington DC (where I live) and Baltimore (where I work). When I travel to other places, I frequently walk the streets and back alleys looking at their urban art. I also frequently hear people who, after visiting cities like New York, London, Paris, Berlin, and Athens, decry the amount of graffiti that they see there. I pose the question and attempt to answer do some cities actually have more graffiti there than others?

3. Most American Universities are no longer sustainable in their current form

American liberal arts colleges ad universities are changing, and it’s not just because of COVID. Here is my foray in to this time honored question regarding the state of higher education in the United States. We know that most universities are slow to change, but there are a bunch of things going on with universities that are fundamentally altering how instruction is delivered, who the people who want to make their career there are, and the importance society is putting on the institutions as bastions of knowledge and power.

2. Why is the Committee to investigate the January 6th attack holding televised hearings now?

Living in Washington, DC and paying attention to numerous types of media one can’t ignore politics at large, let alone the investigation into the insurrection of January 6. Very shortly we are going to have a report and hopefully the work that the committee has done will be helpful to the United States Department of Justice in focusing their investigation.

1. How learning to cook Japanese food improved my life

By far my most popular blog post this year was my very personal story about how I came to learn how to cook Japanese cuisine. I hope to publish a few more pieces like that, not just about Japanese food, but about personal exploits.

Moving forward I hope to implement a few changes or experiments as I like to call them. I’ll be changing the frequency of blogging (from once a week to every two weeks). I’m going to experiment with opening up the blog posts to comments. And I’m going to write about more personal experiences.

Thanks for reading my work, and giving me feedback.

Looking forward to more of it in 2023.

Photo Credit:
Photographer: Kat
Title: Procrastination

What’s wrong with Native American land acknowledgements at university commencement and graduation exercises?

In the northern hemisphere December brings with it cold weather, preparations for and celebration of holidays like Hanukah, Christmas, and Kwanza, and in many colleges and universities commencement exercises.

During this event, students who meet the requirements of graduation, who did not complete their degrees in the spring semester, and/or did not formally participate in graduation exercises by walking across the stage, are formally presented with their diplomas (or more realistically pieces of paper with instructions on where they can pick them up).

Before any graduate is called to the stage to participate in this time honored tradition, speeches from university presidents and/or provosts, and one or more invited guests who may either be a commencement speaker and/or being awarded an honorary doctorate are given. The audience will also most likely listen to one or more speeches from a graduating senior or graduate student who was selected by the student body.

As a faculty member who has participated in numerous commencement and graduating exercises, I’ve noticed an awkward recent trend. Increasingly many of these speeches start with native land acknowledgements or dedications.

In principle these statements draw attention to the fact that if one was to perform a thorough title search, the university was probably built on land that was stolen from the indigenous people (i.e., Native American/American Indian) either living there or in the region.

What benefits do public Native American land acknowledgements provide at university events?

Recognizing that the land where people have chosen to live, work, and/or build structures on was at one point in time probably stolen or obtained through shady practices is important. And this insight is almost completely ignored by most people living in colonizing states like the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc.

In principle, and perhaps, the Native American land claim acknowledgement issued at these public venues is designed to shock those in attendance out of their complacency, change the definition of the situation, and maybe even do something positive about the long term exploitation of Native American peoples.

The public utterance of the land claims acknowledgement is also a low cost method of virtue signaling, and method to demonstrate political correctness. If that is the intended goal then the native land claim acknowledgement at the beginning of speeches has served its purpose.

But the native land declaration that are made at university commencement exercises (not to mention other public university events, and the websites) still remains problematic.

Why are Native American land claim acknowledgement problematic at public university events?

Although I’m not the only person to have difficulty with public native land acknowledgements, I think that the college/university context or platform deserves greater scrutiny.

First, Native American land claims acknowledgements are part of a continuum that includes the commodification, co-optation, fetishization, etc.of important social relationships.

Second, I would argue that the audience in attendance don’t really care. If it’s the graduating students, then their major goal is to get their degree, pose for pictures with their fellow students, family, and maybe a faculty member or two if they are in attendance. If it’s the parents or loved ones of the graduating students, then it is to celebrate the day. And if it’s the staff, faculty and administrators it’s to get the hell out of there as quick as possible.

Third, public Native American land claims acknowledgements disingenuous and disrespectful. Why? If we are talking about universities, then rarely does this mean that the institution of higher education has a native American studies program, or department, It does not mean that they will be hiring more American Indian faculty, or making a concentrated effort to recruit American Indian students more.

Fourth, one must conclude that issuing land acknowledgements is mostly performative. It’s a way to show to those in attendance, and perhaps a larger audience that the university cares or can check the box.

Fifth, the issuance of land claims acknowledgement is hypocritical. If, for example, the university where the land claims acknowledgement is being made dates back to pre-emancipation times, one can almost entirely assume that parts of the university were built with slave labor. But as one can predict this is rarely acknowledged in these public spectacles.

Sixth, public land claims statements like this is faux activism and virtue signaling. Their ability to change things is really limited.

In short, just like many public displays, Native American land claim acknowledgements don’t really do anything to help native peoples or repair the wrongs that have been done.

Ways to address this state of affairs

If you have gotten this far in this rant, you’ve probably gathered that I’m not saying that public announcements that the land where universities (or other structures) was stolen from indigenous people are inherently bad, but they really don’t do anything to improve the current lives of indigenous peoples or repair relationships.

Instead university administrators, individuals who are being honored, and graduating undergrads and graduate students who start a speech by making a land dedication should be held politically accountable.

For example, they should let us know if and which Native American organizations they have assisted (e.g., financial donations to an American Indian (American) or First Nation’s charity or the Native American Rights Fund). If it is the university administrator they should also explain how they have attempted to hire Native American staff and faculty. Alternatively they could elaborate on how they have helped to create and/or maintain a Native American studies program, and/or a Native American students organization on campus.

Until this is done the Native American Land acknowledgement at college and university public events will ring hollow.

Photo Credit
Photographer: Ted Drake
Title: Never Forget – DesertX 2021