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May 16, 2016

Thinking Beyond the Headlines

by Avital Louria-Hahn

When Criminal Justice Program Director Stephanie Lake, Ph.D., tackles a charged subject like race and police brutality, she brandishes what she describes as her “scholar-activist” passion, enlisting her students in organizing and participating in events that probe behind the headlines.

Case in point: In March 2015 the Criminal Justice Club participated in “The Truth Telling Project: A Truth Initiative for Ferguson and Beyond,” in which speakers who had attended the Ferguson demonstrations shared their experiences witnessing police brutality. It was just one of more than a dozen events the criminal justice program and club have initiated or participated in.

Caterina Velazquez, a junior and member of the Criminal Justice Club, said she finds hearing the perspective of people of color who have experienced brutality “eye-opening.” Criminal Justice Club Vice President Shayla Clarke ’16 said these events are impactful because “they not only inform us about the good and bad of the system, they make us take a step back and try to figure out how we can change it.”

“While the primary goal is to educate, we take it a step further and engage,” Dr. Lake said, adding, “This is a model of educational activism we have embraced on campus. It is a way to empower people to see that all significant social change is from the bottom up.”

The project was led by Conversations on Race and supported by the Criminal Justice Program, the Collaboration Project and the Racial Justice Alliance. The Criminal Justice Club also held its own event on Ferguson, “Know Your Rights, Above the Law: Police Brutality and Reform,” with Jason Starr of the ACLU’s Nassau County Chapter. Starr “focused on the rights one has as an individual under the Constitution when searched or detained” said Sophia Parisi ’16, Criminal Justice Club president. Parisi found such events memorable because “faculty, students and others were willing to collectively address and discuss racial injustice and rethink the role of police in societies.”


A young protestor declaring “Racial Justice Matters” is depicted in chalk in front of the Ruth S. Harley University Center during the 2015 Chalk UP! event. The work was done by Daniel Martin, now a junior.

At Chalk UP!, sophomore Daniel Martin “inspired the campus with a large, powerful image of a young black protestor with fist raised high, declaring ‘Racial Justice Matters,’” Dr. Lake said. Another display included the last known words of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Oscar Grant and Eric Garner, four men who died at the hands of police or law enforcement. Following Garner’s death came “We Can’t Breathe: A Discussion on Race, Police Use of Force and the Law: From Mike Brown to Eric Garner and Beyond.” The event drew 100 participants and followed a “die in” in which 40 people protested by lying on the ground.

Dr. Lake, who is also a sociology department faculty member, joined Adelphi in 2002 to start the criminal justice program. “I consciously created a program with a foundation in the social sciences,” she said. Dr. Lake continues to bring that commitment to putting principles into practice to Adelphi today.


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