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Our Responsibilities as Educators and Researchers

An Open Letter on Justice Reform and Commitment from the Faculty of UML’s School of Criminology and Justice Studies

UMass Lowell's Health and Social Sciences Building lit up at night

06/11/2020

The deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, among others, and the eruption of protests across the nation have once again forced us to face the uncomfortable truths of police brutality and racial injustice. Aside from expressing our outrage and pledging our solidarity with the protest movement to combat systemic racism, we educators and researchers must also turn inward and reflect upon the steps that we have already taken to contribute to the national discourse and, importantly, how we can do better. This is a wake-up call for all of us in the field of criminology and criminal justice to assess and reevaluate how we do our work as a discipline. As members of a School that serves a diverse population of students who will one day become criminal justice practitioners and policy makers, we are in a unique position to effect change both in criminal justice agencies and in our communities. 

As educators and researchers, we are committed to ensuring that graduates of all our degree programs demonstrate the highest caliber of moral and ethical reasoning. Yet, we also realize that there is still considerable work to be done. It is therefore our collective call to our colleagues across the University and elsewhere to continue to conduct research and write about social injustice, to educate ourselves and our students, and to promote ethical conduct among criminal justice practitioners through our outreach efforts to justice agencies and the communities that they serve. We recognize our responsibility in developing criminal justice professionals who are committed to the core principles of justice for all, with no exceptions. Towards this general goal, we are reviewing our past practices and have begun the process of taking specific steps forward. Specifically, we pledge to:

Be vocal about past injustices. We first acknowledge that systemic racism has persisted since before it could be captured on camera for the world to see. It is our duty not only to educate ourselves and our students about this shameful legacy, but also how this legacy continues to shape contemporary practices. We are committed to providing students, staff, and faculty opportunities to understand, discuss, and address these injustices. 

Identify our strengths but also the gaps in our curriculum. We have the benefit of strong students who are bright, curious, and committed to their education. With a focus on our students and the future, we are responsible for offering a curriculum that teaches students about our criminal justice system, exposes them to its shortcomings, and offers them the opportunity to explore solutions. We recognize the importance of taking steps to promote cultural competence, which necessitates the identification of individual and systemic bias in our society and the need for expanded course offerings on these topics. We believe that providing opportunities for our students to develop as ethical human beings is just as important as their intellectual development. 

Remain involved in the training and continued education of criminal justice practitioners. Most academic institutions have little or no influence on how police and corrections officers are recruited and trained, or how agency management continues its in-job training to stay current on issues such as racial and social inequality, ethical conduct, and police accountability. While we have worked hard to develop relationships with criminal justice administrators, we will continue to work to further enhance our role in professional education by partnering with communities and criminal justice agencies.

Serve as an academic partner and provide proactive dissemination of the latest research. We will continue to partner with criminal justice agencies and communities to provide research services as they seek evidence-based solutions to modern challenges. The relationships that we have built at UMass Lowell offer us a unique opportunity to be part of the change moving forward.

Across all academic disciplines in all universities, those of us who teach and conduct research in criminology and criminal justice are at the center of this public conversation on race and justice. We must therefore recognize the responsibility we bear to engage fully in the discussion of the persistent challenge of injustice and inequality within the criminal justice system—discussions that are to take place in our classrooms, in our workplaces, and in our communities. We must search for and become part of the solution. And, just as important, we must listen to, learn from, and be united with our students, friends, and colleagues with lived experiences. 

You can anticipate hearing from us on next steps. We are committed to action.