National conference coming to EMU challenges assumptions about crime and criminal justice

A national conference that challenges assumptions about crime and criminal justice will be held on the campus of Eastern Michigan University (EMU) April 12-13. Called "Centering the Margins: Addressing the Implementation Gap of Critical Criminology," this is the fourth iteration of the annual critical criminology conference.


The conference started at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, in 2016, but it moves to a new university each year. Rita Shah, an assistant professor of criminology at EMU, is the organizer of the 2019 event. She says the field of critical criminology "looks beyond traditional definitions of crime and looks at societal and structural issues and the reasons behind why there is crime."


"One of the big things we often question is why do we define crimes the way we do," Shah says. "There's a historical, cultural context behind why something becomes a crime."


Shah says that at large criminology conferences, it's sometimes hard for people in the subfield of critical criminology to find each other. That's what prompted the initial conference.


This year the conference will include two keynote speakers, workshops, research panels, and a chance for undergraduate and graduate students to display posters about their work and talk one-on-one with participants.


Keynote speakers are Allison Cotton, a professor of criminal justice and criminology at Metropolitan State University of Denver in Colorado; and Lisa Monchalin, an EMU graduate who now teaches in the Department of Criminology at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in British Columbia.


Monchalin's work focuses on crime's impact on indigenous people. Shah says she also wanted to include someone who could speak about the criminal justice system's effect on black women and girls, which led her to engage Cotton as a keynote speaker.


"We knew we wanted someone who focused on marginalized voices, and one of these areas that unfortunately does not get as much attention is the plight of black girls and women," she says. "We wanted to find someone who does work in that area, and her research and work seemed fascinating and fit that goal."


The poster sessions for students are part of Shah's goal of making the event as inclusive as possible. She says being on a panel or making a formal presentation about an academic paper can be intimidating, but poster sessions give students a chance to talk about their work in a "less high-stakes environment."


"I think for a lot of us, it's so much easier to chat about our work than do a formal presentation if you've never done one before," she says. "When you do a poster, you practice talking about your research conversationally, and that can (later) translate into a more formal presentation once you get the research lingo."


Registration is now closed for the conference, but more information is available here.


Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She has served as innovation and jobs/development news writer for Concentrate since early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to Driven. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.


Photos courtesy of Rita Shah.

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