The Charger Blog

Student-Run Criminal Justice Organization Dedicated to Promoting Diversity and Inclusion

After the murder of George Floyd, the University's American Criminal Justice Association chapter was the only one in the country to issue a statement with a plan for fostering equality and education, and the national organization is now looking to the group for guidance.

July 22, 2020

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing & Communications

Members of the University's ACJA chapter
Members of the University's ACJA chapter at a conference in Pennsylvania.

For Jasmia Molina '21 and her fellow members of the University's American Criminal Justice Association (ACJA) chapter, when they learned of the murder of George Floyd, silence was not an option. They wanted to respond and to show their support for the Black community.

Molina and her classmates drafted a statement, in which they, as future members of the criminal justice field, acknowledged their responsibility to recognize and speak out against injustices in the criminal justice system.

"When it comes to doing the right thing, there should be no questions asked, and we should do it without hesitation," said Molina, a criminal justice major. "Change doesn't occur through silence. So, if we don't do anything about it, we don't stop it from being a reoccurring cycle."

"Since we're also going to be the leaders in the criminal justice field, it's crucial for us to express our thoughts and what we want to do."John Finn '21

Members of the University's ACJA chapter, also known as Psi Omega, sought input from the University's NAACP chapter, as well as from Juan Hernandez, director of the University's Myatt Center for Diversity and Inclusion, and Lorenzo Boyd, Ph.D., the University's vice president for diversity and inclusion and chief diversity officer, before drafting their statement. They shared it on the chapter's Instagram page, pledging to promote diversity, inclusion, and equality while endeavoring to end racism.

'This is only the beginning'

John Finn '21, the chapter's vice president, says it was important for members of the ACJA to speak out.

"We are more or less role models, the face of criminal justice at our school," said Finn, a criminal justice major. "It really was imperative for us to state what our values are and how we view the situation in our country. Since we're also going to be the leaders in the criminal justice field, it's crucial for us to express our thoughts and what we want to do."

In the statement, the students pledged to help bring about change. They will be creating a diversity and inclusion chair to ensure that the organization is taking the necessary measures to create an inclusive environment for all members. They also stated that they will be providing workshops at least once a month to foster a conversation about injustices and promote education.

The statement ended by encouraging everyone to educate themselves and to support the Black Lives Matter movement.

"We want everyone to know that this is only the beginning," said Jillian Fiore '22. "This is where we're starting, and we are doing the best we can moving forward. We're always open to ideas and input from students – that's what we're here for."

'If anybody can handle it, they can'

The University's chapter sent the statement to the national ACJA organization – and they were the only one to do so following George Floyd's murder. It was so well received that the organization asked Prof. Dan Maxwell, the University chapter's adviser, if the students would take the lead in helping them set up a similar model. He is connecting with the organization to explain what the University's chapter is doing to help the national organization set goals for increasing diversity and inclusion.

"Anybody can talk, and I think what separates us from everybody else is that we're going to be doing something rather than simply giving lip service," said Maxwell, who has discussed increasing diversity programming at the ACJA's national conference next March.

The University's chapter, which includes approximately 200 students, is open to students of all majors, though they need to be criminal justice majors to be part of the national organization.

Prof. Maria Torre, a forensic science lecturer and another of the organization's advisers, says the students' involvement has been a meaningful learning experience.

"They are addressing problems, communicating, and following through, and they're hitting every single one of the facets of the University's Competency Learning Experience," she said. "They know that it's a marathon, not a sprint. I really think that if anybody can handle it, they can."

The students are endeavoring to keep learning, and the hope to learn from their peers as well. When they discovered that many members of the University community were uncomfortable with their use of the "thin blue line" symbol, which they had originally used as a way to show respect to law enforcement officers, they removed it.

"We are trying to make other members of the organization and the campus community feel more comfortable, and we tried to take action right away," said Carmelo Mattioli '21. "I'm happy that we did. We must keep building off of this, and, when school reopens, we will continue to educate and promote the importance of diversity and inclusion."