Wheaton College will offer criminal justice major

Program seeks to prepare students for holistic, multi-perspective approach to careers

Deepening its commitment to equity and social justice, Wheaton College is launching the new academic program criminal justice, restorative justice, and criminology. The major aims to prepare students to tackle some of the most challenging questions in the field by applying knowledge and perspectives from many disciplines.

In early May 2022, the faculty approved the major, which builds on existing courses in sociology, psychology and philosophy, to name a few. Students will be able to pursue it beginning in fall 2023.

The major, which focuses on critical thinking around criminalization, crime causation and prevention, will equip students to pursue many possible career paths in nonprofit, policy and social work, prison abolition advocacy, as well as positions as judges, attorneys, and parole and corrections officers.

“The criminal justice system is large and includes many different roles that have to work together effectively. I am thrilled that we were able to design this major in a way that provides meaningful education and experience to students interested in any of those diverse roles—from advocacy and policy to policing and assessment and treatment of individuals within the system,” said Assistant Professor of Psychology Christina Riggs Romaine, who is a member of the team that developed the program.

“Students will also be well-prepared to pursue a range of other roles that interact with the justice system and might include work as a victim advocate, treatment provider, case manager, investigator, restorative justice group leader, educator, community re-entry specialist or employment specialist,” said Riggs Romaine. This fall she will be co-teaching with Associate Provost Karen McCormack the new course “Inside Out: Making Sense of Data” in partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Corrections inside the Old Colony Correctional Center in Bridgewater, Mass.

As part of the new major and in keeping with the goals of the Compass curriculum, which encourages students to connect academics to career interests, experiential learning opportunities will be offered to enable students to put classroom studies into practice in real-world environments while they are undergraduates.

“I’m excited about the way that the criminal justice, restorative justice, and criminology program brings together the scholarship and practice of these fields in one major,” said McCormack, who is a member of the team that developed the major and also was co-chair of the Curriculum Design Team and the Curriculum Implementation Team for Compass.

“Students will gain an understanding of social systems and how they operate, how to evaluate their effectiveness and equity, and how to work in these systems and work to make them better and fairer,” McCormack said. “For students coming in wanting to work in the criminal justice system, they will gain critical thinking and methodological skills to help them understand the systems and act ethically within them. For students who enter through another academic pathway, they will gain the practical skills to marry the academic and methodological questions with practice.”

The name for the new major was deliberately chosen because it consolidates three knowledge areas that make the major unique, noted Professor of Sociology Javier Trevino, who also is a member of the program development team.

“First, the ‘criminal justice’ component informs students about the organization and workings of the police, the courts and the prisons. Once informed, the students can then discuss the potential reform of these institutions that comprise the criminal justice system. Second, the ‘criminology’ component provides an interdisciplinary orientation to explaining the causes of crime and criminal behavior from biological, psychological and sociological perspectives,” Trevino said.

“Finally, the ‘restorative justice’ component offers an alternative to the traditional, largely punitive and ineffective responses to crime. It deals with a reconciliatory attitude that involves the offender, victim and community,” he said.

The other team members who researched, developed and brought forth the major include: philosophy professors John Partridge and M. Teresa Celada; as well as Jeff Cutting, associate vice president for enrollment and strategic analyst; Shaya Gregory Poku, former associate vice president of the Office for Institutional Equity and Belonging; and Anda Brown, a member of the Class of 2024.

“I’m most excited by the fact that the major will critically examine pressing problems that are of interest to many students, such as mass incarceration, gun violence, police brutality, wrongful convictions, cybercrimes and hate crimes, among others,” said Trevino, who has been teaching “Criminology” at Wheaton since 1995 and will continue to offer this course, likely with more frequency.

“With the new major, my hope is that students will cultivate a critical awareness—informed by a social justice orientation—of the causes of crime and society’s responses to it,” he said.

Learn more about the criminal justice, restorative justice, and criminology major.