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Take 5 with Amanda Burgess-Proctor

Thursday, October 27, 2011
Take 5 with Amanda Burgess-Proctor
By Katie Land, news editor

Composed of a diverse array of faculty, staff and administrators, the Oakland University community is unique, creative, and dedicated. As part of a continuing effort to explore the various roles and lives of our Golden Grizzlies, the News @ OU website presents a new interview series. We invite you to share these stories and “Take 5” with OU.

“Take 5 with Amanda Burgess-Proctor”

Amanda Burgess-Proctor is an assistant professor of sociology in the department of Sociology and Anthropology. Since joining the Oakland University community in 2009, she has taught a number of unique courses, including Alcohol, Drugs and Society, Juvenile Delinquency, Criminal Careers & Career Criminals, and Women, Crime and Justice. Recently, local media outlets have sought her expertise in issues related to substance abuse in American culture and legislation. Amanda’s primary research interests include feminist criminology, criminological theory, intimate partner violence, and intersections of race, class and gender.

1) Why did you decide to go into criminology?

Unlike a lot of criminologists, I do not have any family members working as police officers or judges or anything like that. I actually became interested in the field based on an experience I had as a child. When I was in seventh grade, there was a peeping tom sort of lurking in the neighborhood. One night I saw him through our kitchen window, staring in, and we made eye contact. It was terrifying and we called the police. I wasn’t hurt at all, but it was very unusual and a really shocking experience. It definitely made me more interested in crime. As I grew up, I became interested in crime fiction and non-fiction books and grew fascinated in criminal policies and the inequalities in the justice system. I read serial killer biographies and I wanted to be Clarice Starling from “The Silence of the Lambs.” I suppose it was a combination of experience and interests that brought me to this field.

2) What are the special challenges you face as a sociology professor teaching about such tough topics as domestic violence and drugs?

It can be very challenging to talk about such sensitive topics as sexual assault, illegal addictions and violent crimes. I have to always assume that at least one student in each class has been a victim of a crime, and so I have the responsibility to be sensitive to that and aware of how they may feel or react. Especially for students who have family members or loved ones involved in these kinds of issues, it can be difficult and even traumatic to join in the discussion. It can also be a challenge to get students talking and thinking critically about these policies rather than just accepting the status quo. We need to talk about what is an effective method of dealing with crime and criminals.

3) What traits do you look for in a criminology student?

I always look for critical thinking and analysis skills. I love any student who can think beyond their own experiences and who understands that their individual experiences are not universal and not the best data for the rest of the world. I have been really impressed with Oakland students. They all bring such special passions, interests and insights to class. My students all ask such good questions and really engage their brains in the material.

4) How do you relax or have fun?

I love watching movies and going out to concerts of all kinds. I like the experiences of going to see live music or trying out an interesting new restaurant or bottle of wine. I have three little girls, so we are very busy and have plenty of fun together too.

5) How does the pop culture treatment of the issues you teach (in crime shows, movies, novels) affect or interact with common perceptions of the field?

The entertainment and news media plays an immeasurably important role in the public’s perception of criminal justice. There is an interesting blend of fiction and reality in crime programming. There are mysteries, forensic shows, police files, lock-up documentaries, police women features, reality shows of all kind, as well as the news media. The news and the fictional shows combine to show a disproportionate or distorted view relative to the extent of an individual type of problem.. It causes people to get a sense of entitlement, where they think they know how to solve a problem because they watch CSI. The ideas involved are immensely pervasive in our society. Still, I recently read an article about a homicide, and the reader comments were incredible. Regular citizens really do have a huge knowledge of the tools and techniques involved in an investigation. We have all become armchair detectives. Personally, I do have a huge appetite for crime shows. They are not always accurate, but a number of them do get things right. And they are always fascinating.