The Blue & Gray Press

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Special topics sociology class leads police forums

4 min read

The class’ flier showcases the dates of the three forums, where to sign up and where to find the preliminary written material. | Photo courtesy of Melissa Castillo


Staff Writer

This semester UMW introduced a special topics sociology course called Invention of Police: Social Control. Instead of completing traditional classroom activities like papers and assignments, students conduct three public forms about the UMW Police Department and its effects on the UMW community. The forums are tentatively set to address students on April 1, staff on April 5 and alumni on April 14. 

Dr. Debra Schleef, associate provost for Institutional Analysis and Effectiveness and professor of sociology, only teaches every four to five semesters. This semester Schleef decided to teach the special topics sociology course that would give students the opportunity to impact the community by hosting forums. 

Although the class is not affiliated with the Community Advisory Panel (CAP) that has been investigating the UMW Police Department, they will be using the data from the CAP fall 2020 surveys that students, alumni, faculty and staff responded to. In response to UMW PD’s involvement in the May 31, 2020 Black Lives Matter protests in Fredericksburg, the survey was sent out in Sep. 2020 to examine the UMW community’s perceptions of the UMW police and police in general. The survey also asked about perceived safety on campus and suggestions for reform. However, there is no set date that the CAP results will be released.

The goal of speaking to UMW communities is “to provide the data from the three Campus Advisory Panel UMW Police Surveys to the relevant University communities – students, faculty/staff, and alumni, as well as to give the students an opportunity to engage with the material,” said Schleef. 

Schleef came up with the idea to have the students create the syllabus with her. She stated that she “suggested a few things that might take them beyond the typical classroom assignments to action research, public sociology, something that had a far-ranging impact.” The class came to the conclusion that working with the CAP data was everyone’s first choice for what to do with the forum. 

The responsibilities of organizing the forums are split up between the students. The students and Schleef talked about the roles that were needed for the forums and divided them up into primary and secondary tasks to start off. For their main roles, three of the students will be speakers at the forum, and the rest are organizing and advertising the forum, analyzing data for the presentation and working on preliminary written material.

“Everyone has at least one primary and one secondary task,” said Schleef. “Students filled out a skills inventory and then I matched people with tasks, with some negotiation. It worked out really well in terms of individuals playing to their strengths.”

Melissa Castillo, a senior sociology major, and Kaitlyn Parker, a senior biochemistry major, are both students in the course. Castillo and Parker are working on written material that will be posted to a website for the UMW community to read before or after the forums. This written material will expand the topics to be covered in the forum. 

Parker is focusing her time right now on writing about how police respond to domestic violence calls and ways to reduce police brutality. 

Castillo said that she had never been involved in a forum like this before, but she believes that policing and police brutality is an important topic to discuss. 

Castillo will be writing the short preliminary pieces on the history of policing. “I want to focus on the progression of policing, as well as how some of the laws and policies put in place during certain eras have impacted policing until now,” said Castillo. 

The students plan to release the preliminary writing before the forums to give people a chance to look over them beforehand. 

This course is an in-person discussion-based class. For many of the discussions, the students provide the readings or materials based on topics that they chose, and they are graded on their contribution to the class bibliography.

Parker said that this is the most flexible class she has ever taken. 

“I think that flexibility was a bit too much for me because I am a physical science major and all of my classes have been heavily structured. It completely put me out of my comfort zone, but I’m glad I got to experience that process,” said Parker. 

Although the forum will be addressing the CAP results of the survey from the previous semester, their goal is also to inform the UMW community about the impacts of policing and police brutality in the U.S. and at UMW.

“As a community, we must acknowledge and recognize that this is a systemic problem that has been embedded throughout our history,” said Castillo. “This will not change unless we move to change it.”

Follow me on Twitter