If you are interested in studying criminal justice, you’re in luck. GW offers a major and minor in the subject. But what students may not realize is that most of the coursework falls in the sociology department. GW needs a separate criminal justice department to give students a more personalized curriculum and help their career prospects.
Sociology is defined as the study of the development, structure and functioning of human society. Some aspects of criminal justice are similar to sociology, like analyzing the systemic factors that cause crime, but the two fields are ultimately not equal. While criminal justice fits within that large schema, it has a much more specific focus. Sociology covers a lot of territory, from economic trends to sports and entertainment. These subjects may be tangentially related to criminal justice, but they are not central to it. Although there is some overlap, there is not nearly enough to justify lumping criminal justice with the sociology department.
Since 2011, there have been about 60 to 100 students majoring in criminal justice every year, according to institutional data. Those students deserve additional resources. For criminal justice majors and minors, there are several benefits to having a specific department. Most notably, the professors and office resources would not be split up between the sociology and criminal justice majors, so criminal justice majors and minors will have a specific place to go for help. This would also give students more personalized attention when searching for internships and additional education, and when selecting their course schedules each semester. Having a boosted group of expert professors and administrators to guide students would be a benefit.
Because of the University’s location, it is especially important for GW to have a criminal justice department. The D.C. area contains some of the most prestigious criminal justice agencies in the country, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency. Although not all criminal justice majors go on to work for those agencies, they are still two of the many major job opportunities within their chosen field. Federal departments that are so close to campus offer a great opportunity for the University to hire true experts in the field as adjunct professors. GW should take advantage of its location and cater to students with its own department for criminal justice majors and minors.
A separate department may also allow GW to expand its number of criminal justice courses, and even offer classes geared toward police work for interested students. Currently, the University only offers eight courses that would be considered part of the field. Expanding the number of classes would give future officers more time and training in areas such as firearms, first aid and crime scene investigation. The sociology department does not offer this hands-on experience, but a criminal justice department could.
Northeastern University, one of GW’s peer institutions, has a criminal justice department that has been established since 1967. When the department first started, the prime focus of its students was to enter the law enforcement field. However, over the years, the department has shifted its focus to criminal justice and criminology. GW’s department of criminal justice should look at Northeastern as an example to follow in order to serve its current students in the future.
Sociology is a much broader field than criminal justice, yet GW treats these fields as if they are the same by housing them in the same department. Instead, they should have their own departments so criminal justice majors are able to receive a more individualized program. This change would also allow GW to expand the range of courses it offers and give students more hands-on experience. GW’s location is at the heart of law enforcement in the United States, so it is time it capitalizes on this unique advantage, instead of shying away from it.
Diana Wallens, a senior majoring in criminal justice, is a Hatchet opinions writer.
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