Meet Our Team
Jenni is currently a first year doctoral student in the Florida State University Higher Education program. Her research interests are in student involvement and leadership development. Jenni received her Bachelor’s in Marketing and Master’s in Student Affairs in Higher Education from Texas State University-San Marcos. Through her work she has experience in: student activities, leadership, new student orientation, housing, conference services, career services & undergraduate research.
Kendra is currently a non-degree seeking student, who will begin her doctoral work in the Fall semester via the Higher Education program at Florida State University. Her research interests are in on-campus housing as learning systems and undergraduate student development. Kendra received her Bachelor’s in University Studies from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and her Master’s in Higher Education and Student Affairs from The Ohio State University. She has worked with on-campus housing in five states over the last 15 years.
Nicole is currently a non-degree seeking student who will officially begin her doctoral work in the fall semester in the Florida State University Higher Education program. Nicole works full-time as the Program Coordinator of Student Conduct for University Housing at Florida State University. Nicole received a Bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University, New Brunswick and a Master’s in Education degree from the University of Florida. Her research interests include state laws and its impact on the university student conduct process.
Jesse Ford is a Graduate Research Assistant and a Higher Education Ph.D. student at Florida State University. His research examines the sociocultural contexts that influence graduate education and professional experiences of underrepresented populations in academia. Additional research interests include social justice education, literacy, and Historical Black Colleges & Universities. He completed master’s degree in Higher Education and Student Affairs from the University of South Carolina and a bachelor’s degree in History from Coastal Carolina University.
Sherrina is a first year Higher Education doctoral student at Florida State University. She received both her Bachelor’s (Finance and Real Estate) and Master’s (Career Counseling) from California State University, Northridge. Her research interests focus on collegiate student athletes transition out of sports. She has experience working in collegiate athletics, career services, and academic advising.
LaFarin Meriwether is a Phd. student in the Higher Education program at Florida State University. She received her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Kentucky in Agricultural Economics and Public Service and Leadership. She earned her M.B.A. from the University of Cincinnati. LaFarin currently serves as the Assistant Director for Learning and Engagement in University Housing at Florida State. LaFarin’s research interest centers around black female identity development. Additionally, through her involvement with her professional housing organizations she is engaged in research focused on creating work environments that support and retain staff of color.
Pearson is a first year doctoral student in the Florida State University Higher Education program. Pearson works full-time as a Program Coordinator for New Student & Family Programs. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Secondary English-Education and her Master’s degree in Higher Education from the University of Mississippi. Her research interests include social media platforms and Black identity development.
Dorsey Spencer Jr. is a doctoral student in the Higher Education program at Florida State University. He currently serves as the Director of Administration in the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs. His research interests include leadership learning and identity, HBCUs, and higher education institutions and community relations. He has a bachelor’s degree in Sport and Recreation Management from Temple University and a master’s degree in Higher Education from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Erica is a Ph.D. student in the Higher Education program at Florida State University. Her research focuses on critical race theory and critical pedagogy in leadership education and scholarship. In her role as a graduate assistant in the Leadership Learning Research Center she conducts research and teaches in the Undergraduate Certificate in Leadership Studies. She received her bachelor’s degree in business marketing with a certificate in leadership studies from Florida State University and obtained her master’s degree in Student Affairs Administration in Higher Education at Texas A&M University.
Dr. Bradley E. Cox is an Associate Professor of Higher Education in Florida State University, where he is also a Senior Research Associate with the Center for Postsecondary Success (CPS). Dr. Cox is also the Founder of the College Autism Network (CAN), a national non-profit organization dedicated to using evidence-based advocacy to improve experiences and outcomes for college students with autism.
Positionality Statement A
My next interaction with the judicial system was with a friend who got arrested for a misdemeanors. I had known this friend a while and how he had developed bad habits. He had called me from jail and let me know his options: bail out or a night in jail. He knew I would not be able to bail him out because of money, but also because of my expectations for him. My thought was that he would not deserve to be bailed out, even if I could. I was able to pick him up the next morning and we had a long heated conversation about the types of situations he put himself in. We remained friends, but I have not heard from him in years, and a part of me worries that he did not learn a lesson.
My last personal connection was when my mom called to let me know that my brother was in jail for “brandishing a weapon”… that was inside his backpack when approached by the officer. My brother is the most Hispanic looking of my siblings. My parents were angry. They did not have the means to fight the charge, but they were able to bail him out.
As for formerly incarcerated people, again, I do not know anyone personally, but I do know friends who have family members who were in jail. My college roommate, who identified as Black, and my high school best friend, who identified as Hispanic, had several family members in prison. In both situations, they described how it was generally accepted and, even, expected for them to make bad decisions. For my Black friend the males in her family (primarily) all had some criminal record, and the females got “knocked-up” early in life. For both of my friends it was also very unlikely for their family to get an education.
I recognize that I have a bias in my believe that law offenders need to learn a lesson so they can improve who they are and that they are capable of more positive actions and lives. However, I do not know that the environment and justifications behind the judicial system is doing the job we expect. I am also an optimist who believes in others, and I would like include formerly incarcerated students. On the other-hand, I know that there is a part of me that is aware of the likelihood of them going back down a bad path and impacting others. I want to help change that path for them and the perception for myself and others. I am hopeful that this class and research will help me to overcome this and help me accept and advocate for these students.
Positionality Statement B
I had no exposure to the criminal justice and legal system until I was in college. When I was in college, I responded to a family member getting arrested and had to pick them up from jail. That was the first time I stepped into a jail. I could tell they were visibly impacted by the experience and would not share much because of how jarring, intrusive and disturbing it was. After a long legal process, the charges were dropped. I am still processing this event, my knowledge of the criminal and legal system, and how this experience affected someone close to me. I never thought that someone could be wrongfully convicted or that someone who is rightfully convicted could escape a criminal record or jail/prison. I thought in general that the criminal justice and legal system was truthful. That meant that I believed prison was paying for the price of their crime. That the time in isolation or time of reflection was needed to develop their re-commitment to humanity and being “good.” This may seem like an innocent view looking back, but still effects my view of this specific population. Last year was the first year that I even knew what the difference was between jail and prison. I always thought that people used the terms interchangeably. I now see a broader view of this system, in addition to the legal system, and how it is founded on power, privilege, and oppression. I still have a lot to learn though…
Positionality Statement C
poor/lower SES and uneducated people. I do not believe they are demons or bad people; some of them
could even be heroes. I think of someone who went to prison as someone with a life of crime, not just
someone who made one bad choice; I often think that, to be incarcerated, means that more than one
wrong decision was made. I think I may romanticize the ‘turning my life around’ aspect that comes with
moving away from a life of crime and a move towards a higher education degree and lifestyle. In my
mind, I think of this as an underdog story, and I cannot understand why anyone would see anything but
the potential for success. Often, this means overlooking the barriers that may be in place for these
When people think of criminals, there is a lot to ‘see’ in that word: what gender does one see? Are the
criminals wearing black and white stripes or an orange/pink jumpsuit? Are they people of color or wild-
west outlaws? Are they the hero or the villain of the story? To me, it all depends on the crime
committed, which is an awful truth to the bias of cultural narrative. I also think that if someone has been
found guilty by a panel of their peers, that they are guilty and need to own-up to what they did. The idea
of false imprisonment, while very real, seems so rare as to not be real, even though I’m sure that
statistics would prove otherwise. I think that the label ‘criminal’ inherently comes with the undertone of
dangerous, and only in the movies are people falsely imprisoned.
I feel, rather than think, passionately about violent criminals not being allowed on-campus; those
criminals convicted of murder, rape, or even manslaughter, should not be allowed in class next to a
potential 16-year- old student, who does not know how to interact with the world quite yet, let alone
how to interact with someone capable of the ugliest side of the human existence. Yet I also feel,
passionately, that education is the only way out of a bad situation, and that everyone deserves a second
chance. Those two feelings do not mix well when I think about students who have been formerly
incarcerated, and I have not fully found a way to reconcile the two. I am ambivalent (meaning
undecided, not uncaring) about people who have been incarcerated for drugs. While drugs are an issue
for many across the nation, and while I’ve lost friends and relatives due to illegal drug usage, I also know
that our justice system is not truly blind when it comes to drug-sentences. One only needs to look at the
differences between how crack and cocaine users and sellers are treated to understand the disparity
and how real the difference in consequences can be. Recreational marijuana usage, while now slowly
becoming the norm for many states, has caused many people to be incarcerated, and I have heard of no
one whose case or sentence has been revisited (or vacated), resulting in that uncertain stance on where
they should land within the confines of this project.
I do not know if this student population is most deserving of our time and efforts, as there is a lot of
need for advocacy for a myriad of students. However, I also think that these students need to be
someone’s priority if they are ever going to make something more of themselves than a rap-sheet. I
worry, particularly in this current political climate, that no one will listen or help us in our attempts to
help this group, even though a lot of good can come from what we can do. We have some of the best
and brightest minds in our class, many of whom I have worked with and whose work I greatly respect,
and I am already a little discouraged that we will be discounted, and our work will be for naught,
because, politically speaking, this population is not even a blip on the radar.
Positionality Statement D
In going through this class this semester one of the hardest things I will have to do will be to control my emotions when it comes to topics that may arise in our class discussions. My connection to folks who are formerly incarcerated has a lot to do with my life experiences. As I mentioned, I have been affected by the prison system in this country. Many of my brothers, cousins, and uncles have been in juvenile detention, jail, and prison for many reasons I feel this society has constructed. Some may feel that at some point they should have gotten it together, but from my lens in this country it is almost impossible to change their mentalities and behaviors when everything needed for them to make a change has been stripped away, is limited, or restricted. It is well known that American society is not the most supportive, encouraging, or loving of Black people, which is a HUGE issue for me. Guarding myself and my feelings with this topic will be a great personal challenge that I think I can grow and learn from.
When I think of formerly incarcerated people, I think of my family. I think of all of the things that lead people down the path of incarceration or imprisonment. I think of the families affected by their absence. I think of the mentalities that make their recidivism highly likely. I think about how full of shit this so-call rehabilitation system is. I think about the irrational concept of putting people in a stone room for 18-23 hours a day as a means of making them better behave. I think about the corruptness, the manipulation, the enslavement, and the abuse of power that is exercised over them. I think about the people who have been wrongly incarcerated and how their lives will forever be plagued by the brokenness of the legal system. I think about all the ills of the system.
Given these feelings and beliefs, I am very interested in figuring out ways for formerly incarcerated people to get their lives and families back. I want to help those who have been misguided and systematically funneled down the path of incarceration. Frankly, I believe that many people imprisoned have talents that can contribute to bettering society, but were never given a chance to do so because of their race. I also want to demystify the fears some people hold regarding people who have served time in prison. Some of the people who have been incarcerated simply made a mistake based on their environments or how society treated them. So my goal for this class is to be somewhat of a voice for their families and them based on my own personal experiences and knowledge of the life of those who have served time. I just hope that people in the class who may not have been impacted by it or who may come from a different lens will be open to understanding them from a different perspective. I hope that after this class that folks will look at them as people who are deserving of a first or second chance.
This will certainly be an interesting experience, but I must also disclose that my interest is biased and limited to folks who look like me and folks who have not intentionally murdered multiple people; rapped women, children, or men; or people who are deeply disturbed because I honestly do not see how services on a college campus could help them.
Positionality Statement E
I am the son of retired New York City Police Sergeant. There are many other family members and family friends that I know that work or have worked in law enforcement or the criminal justice system. I grew up on stories of their encounters with various criminals. Some of my undergraduate classmates are now police officers. I myself have entertained the idea of working in law enforcement as recently as a few years ago. Growing up I was told that if I even ended up in prison not to call home for help. I cannot ignore that this background and being surrounded by law enforcement and criminal justice figures has skewed my perception of the populations we are studying.
I believe in law and order. I think it is vital to maintaining society. I believe that while the vast majority of people are good and have good intentions, there are definitely evil people in the world who want to do harm to others. I believe some people need to go to prison for a variety of reasons. Though I do not believe that everyone who is in prison should be incarcerated. I also acknowledge that humans are flawed and as such the systems and institutions we create are inherently flawed as well. This includes the law enforcement and criminal justice systems and institutions in the United States. As the wise Kanye West said “The system broken, the schools closed, the prisons open”. The U.S. should be ashamed of the level of mass incarceration we have today.
Despite some of these beliefs and positions and in line with others all, I am a Black man in the United States of America. These are my most salient identities: Black, Male, American. I have seen firsthand the damage these institutions have done to the Black community. Families have been destroyed. From over incarceration to racist polices and procedures to police brutality to lack of accountability, just to name a few issues. All of these things have impacted the Black community. On a personal level, I have family members who have engaged with these systems and institutions. I have seen the system snuff out some of the best and brightest like it was nothing and all we are left with is wonder, what ifs, and dreams deferred.
I had a student who was formerly incarcerated. He was also homeless. I saw the struggles he went through. Being too tired to stay awake in class. Being kept out of spaces on campus when trying to catch a nap. Encountering various stigmas from others. I often found myself thinking “what if”. I tried to assist him with what I could but as with most things there are limitations to what one can do.
I do believe those who serve their time should be given a second chance. We all make mistakes. Sometimes those mistakes have high prices but when that price is paid their citizenship should be fully restored. I believe that there should be a support system to assist these people in getting reacquainted with the world and back on their feet.
I guess one can say my positionality and bias when it comes to this specific population of college students are complicated to say the least. There is an ongoing war between ideas and feelings within me. I will leave a song from Asa that encompasses my feelings on this population:
Am in chains you’re in chains too I wear uniforms, you wear uniforms too
I’m a prisoner, you’re a prisoner too Mr Jailer
I have fears you have fear too I will die, you sef go die too
Life is beautiful don’t you think so too Mr Jailer
Am talking to you jailer Stop calling me a prisoner
Let he who is without sin be the first to cast the stone Mr Jailer
Positionality Statement F
Studying formerly incarcerated students makes me feel uncomfortable. That is not an easy thing for me to say. I am uncomfortable because I hold a lot of privilege regarding this topic—but it is privilege that wasn’t always mine to hold.
I cannot say that incarceration has never touched my family because it has, but what I have realized is that I forgive, excuse, or ignore their pasts as my loved ones, but I am intolerant and uninterested in offering that empathy to others.
Whether it is because I know that jail is the one place my mom has always reminded me that I am never to call her from (she won’t come get me), but I cannot seem to pinpoint the right marker to place my disinterest. It is strange to me because I have found myself very supportive of restoring voting rights to the formerly incarcerated. I have found myself in favor of releasing marijuana-related offenders since the drug is legal in several states now. I have found myself to be an advocate and helping my sister remove my eight year old nephew from the public school system due to multiple suspensions and knowledge of the school to prison pipeline among young, black boys. In reality, I have found myself in a bit of a paradox and I am unsure how to proceed from here.
Positionality Statement G
My positionality with this topic formed in my early childhood. Currently, my mother has four brothers and my father has one brother. Out of these five men, each has been to prison at least once for more than thirty days. Some of my earliest memories are visiting 3 of these 5 men in prison.
These moments are permanently stained in my memory. I have been stopped by cops multiple times. These experiences affect my personal thoughts. In addition, national statistics state 2 out of every 3 Black males will be incarcerated throughout their lifetime. As a Black man in America, I am forced to think about these statistics and stories every time I see a police officer. The impact of societal mircoaggressions have created feelings of confusion, uncertainty, and a lack of safety in my country. In closing, I want to support, assist, and learn more about their struggles in higher education.
Positionality Statement H
In addition, through my work, I frequently work with students who interact with the law. And sometimes students are even arrested and spend time in jail. However, I recognize that spending the night in jail, is not the same as having gone to prison for over a year. Most of the students I work with never make it to prison, and have the financial means to hire legal representation to assist with their sentencing. These are lenses I recognize I have when studying this population. I acknowledge there is whole side to the law that I have never experienced nor have had any reason to experience
Given my perspectives on humanity, I do believe that people need to be responsible for their own actions and choices. I recognize that is not always easy to say, nor is always easy to define. And I do believe there are some people who are anti-social and do not can care or actualize with the feelings and beliefs of others. I almost see the spectrum of humanity on a bell curve with everyone who I define as ‘good’ within the top 85-90 percent of the bell curve, and everyone else as those who don’t care for the well-being of others. I always ponder the question; how do I know who is a ‘bad person’ versus who is a person who had a ‘bad decision’
This is the fundamental question I am constantly reminded of when I think about working with this population. Are we allowing ‘bad people’ to enter the doors of higher education? How do we define what is a bad person? Someone who molests children? A murderer? A rapist? How do we know those people aren’t already within the confides of higher education but look and appear to be good? However, my spirituality tells me, no one is above forgiveness. But it’s hard to reconcile forgiveness and acceptance of someone who has been in prison for molesting children. I also want to help those individuals, that want to help themselves. (God helps those, who helps themselves). I believe everyone deserves a second chance. But how do I balance individual responsibility with the pressures of the environment? Many of these people believe ‘the system’ is stacked against them (very true) to be successful in higher education. But how I do I determine this simply isn’t an excuse?
These are the big questions and biases I wrestle with when thinking about this population. I believe education and knowledge is the key to a better life. A better life gives people more options and allows them more opportunities to choose the life they want to live. Perhaps that is a privileged lens to which the way I look at life, but I want to help students formally incarcerated into higher education.
Positionality Statement I
I should care. I have a cousin and a brother who have both spent most of their adult life in prison. Both had the opportunity to make different choices. They didn’t. Yes, they are both Black men and statistically over represented in the prison population however, their upbringing and opportunities would not indicate prison as their destination. They wanted easy money an accepted the consequences that came along with those actions. Prison wasn’t a deterrent. Education inside and outside of prison wasn’t either.
When I think about formally incarcerated students being on college campuses and having access to higher education I’m not opposed to it. They are any other student. All of our students privileged or not, underrepresented or not, have a right to someone to be a resource for them. I am struggling to find the thing, the thought, the idea, that will make me want to invest differently in this population than I would others.