From Dec 14-17, 2018, Drs. Rebecca Ridener, Jeffrey Roth, and Sarah Kuehn accompanied students Lauren Fedorek, a senior Criminology and Criminal Justice major (CRIM), and Sarah Hess, a dual Psychology and Criminology and Criminal Justice major, to the largest criminology conference in the country. The American Society of Criminology annual meeting was held in Atlanta, Georgia this year, and hosted over 2,500 students and professionals in the field. Dr. Kuehn explained that this “unbelievably big” conference runs from 8 am to 5 pm each day, with many session running simultaneously so that attendees have the opportunity to pick and choose according to their interest areas.
While Dr. Roth presented his work on “Student Performance and Satisfaction in Video-Conference and Resident Courses,” Dr. Kuehn was able to present the work she, Dr. Ridener, Hess, and Fedorek have been working on since last fall on “Why Do Criminology Students Choose Their Major.” The latter study was based on a prior study in 2017, which had shown a “liberalization effect” (i.e., students becoming more politically liberal and wanting to punish offender less harshly over their college careers (their level of punitiveness)). CRIM majors, however, seemed to have started off with a pre-set mind-set and CRIM classes did not have an impact on their views. If it is not an educational effect driving students’ levels of punitiveness, the team wondered if CRIM majors had “self-selected” themselves into the major based on their personal belief systems. This led the team to survey over 500 freshmen in different majors within the first few weeks of the Fall 2017 semester. With questions on demographics, political views, personality traits, interest areas, favorite TV shows, parental demographics, and more, the surveys would help complete the picture of why CRIM majors choose their fields versus other majors and their respective fields. Fedorek and Hess, both sponsored by a SRU Student Faculty Research Grant, were able to assist the process by conducting literature reviews, collecting data, and completing data entry into the SPSS program.
Over the summer, the team was able to begin assessing the survey results. Not surprisingly, they found that CRIM majors and non-majors all choose their fields based on their interests in the subject, career advancement opportunities, their skill in the subject matter, and so on. However, they found that CRIM majors are much more interested in the subject matter comparatively and much less affected by high school experiences. CRIM majors were shown to watch more crime shows, as well. Yet, some of the most interesting findings from the surveys were how much CRIM majors differ from non-majors in regard to personality traits. Looking at extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness, CRIM majors exhibited increased conscientiousness (which is described as being more efficient and organized, self-disciplined and dependable) and decreased neuroticism (i.e., they tend to be more calm, emotionally stable, and have a lower vulnerability to stress), revealing characteristics which Dr. Kuehn views as “very well-fitting for their career choice in policing and corrections.”
In addition to attending many sessions at the conference, Fedorek and Hess were able to spend some time sightseeing in Atlanta with Dr. Ridener and Dr. Kuehn. Dr. Ridener shared, “It was a great experience for our students and they really seemed to enjoy attending the different panels.” Her favorite part of the conference was meeting a well-known criminologist, Freda Adler, who “was incredibly modest considering how impactful she has been in the field of criminology.” Fedorek agreed, sharing, “It was amazing to be in an environment in which there were so many criminology professionals. My favorite part of the conference was a roundtable Sarah Hess and I attended that discussed issues of reform of the system looking at it from the perspectives of reformists vs. abolitionists. The roundtable included formerly incarcerated persons who were pursuing their doctorate degrees or already had one. It was a new perspective, as many times the stories of the formerly incarcerated go unheard. It was interesting to hear how their experiences in the system shaped who they are and the work they do now.”