A new paradigm in criminal justice

Students prepare for careers by focusing on Middle East Studies
- by Dottie Barnes

The impact of the Sept. 11 attacks more than four years ago is still being felt economically, socially and politically. As the United States began to combat a new radical enemy, some students in the School of Criminal Justice took notice and focused their studies differently.

"I noticed this phenomenon about two or three years ago," said Jim Goode, director of Middle East Studies. "We started seeing more criminal justice students taking courses in Middle East Studies."

Before the terrorist attacks, the criminal justice program was more narrowly defined, according to Terry Fisk, chair of the department. Students picked an area of interest such as corrections, law enforcement, private security or juvenile justice.

"Prior to Sept. 11, most students didn't have a global sense of where their career could take them," Fisk said. "Our problems are not bound by our borders." The criminal justice program was restructured about three years ago and a liberal arts piece was added.

"We're looking at a new paradigm in our field; students have a very bright future," Fisk added.

Paul Riese, a criminal justice major, rides a camel in Jordan. He studied abroad there to learn about Middle Eastern culture and language.

Paul Riese is one criminal justice major who recognized the benefits of a global view. The 21-year-old native of Harper Woods, in suburban Detroit, is in the Army Reserves and has declared Middle East Studies as his minor. He spent last summer studying abroad at the University of Jordan taking Arabic language classes.

"I was curious about the culture and traditions and I was able to get a broader picture of the Arab world," Riese said. "You can't judge people by the actions of one small group, or by what the media portrays. The people of Jordan were very hospitable. I would meet a man once and he would say, 'Now, you're our brother.'"

Riese said getting a feel for Middle Eastern culture and language is imperative for his career, which could take him anywhere in the world. "I'm considering going active in the Army and switching from being an MP soldier to a linguist," he said.

It's Riese's curiosity that is the important piece, according to Fisk. "We must raise a student's curiosity so they learn to think globally," Fisk said. "The knowledge base must go beyond traditional thinking for students to be ready for what's coming in our field."

Fisk said the key is how students, especially those who want to work at the federal level, supplement their studies. "Ten years ago, the focus may have been Russian studies; now it's the Middle East or any European study," he said. "It's a harder route to go. Studying a foreign language isn't easy, but the rewards are incredible."

Joe Bozek sits in an Arabic language class. He has completed three semesters of Arabic in hopes of landing a job at the federal level investigating and analyzing evidence.

Joe Bozek, a senior from Grand Rapids, is enrolled in the criminal justice graduate program at Grand Valley. He hopes to work in intelligence analysis and knows all about the dedication needed to master a foreign language, having completed three semesters of Arabic.

"The classes started out with the basics, so it wasn't so overwhelming," Bozek said. "It is taught step-by-step and the professors understand that learning a language is not easy. Arabic is different from other languages in that it has its own alphabet. Once I learned the alphabet, I was able to read most words. The hard part is understanding what I am reading as well as structuring sentences properly."

Bozek is planning to study in Egypt this summer and would ultimately like to work at the federal level investigating and analyzing evidence. "There is no way to tell where I will end up after graduating. It has taken a lot of effort to get me where I am today and at this point I am willing to go wherever needed to pursue the career I have chosen," Bozek said.

That perspective is just what Goode hopes for in criminal justice majors. The professor of history taught in Iran from 1968-73 and also at the Middle East Technical University in Turkey. "It's important that criminal justice students understand the complexity of Middle East societies and Islam to get a richer and deeper understanding of the people and culture," said Goode.

Criminal justice students can learn from the path taken by Jonathan White. The criminal justice professor is the executive director of Grand Valley's Homeland Defense Initiative. White was tapped by the federal government after Sept. 11 to travel the country educating law enforcement officials about terrorists. He encourages students to get a varied background.

"Students should round out their major with as many liberal arts studies as possible," White said. "I push history, English, political science and - especially - literature. It's a way to experience life outside of one's immediate knowledge frame."

White also said studying foreign languages such as Spanish and Arabic is important. And for those who might not be interested in the Middle East, White predicts Latin America will receive more and more attention

"This is an area being neglected in foreign policy," he said. "It's the center of the majority of our drug trade."

White contends the United States is not hated for its freedom or success, but its economic and political policies, so criminal justice students would be wise to focus on history and political science. "It's critical to obtain a broad view of social environment," he said.

Goode agrees with the importance of all students gaining an international focus.

"You can't judge people by the actions of one small group, or by what the media portrays. The people of Jordan were very hospitable. I would meet a man once and he would say, 'Now, you're our brother.'" - Paul Riese

Terry Fisk, chair of the criminal justice department, says the curriculum was restructured to add a liberal arts component.

"It's rewarding when you see students understand that people from other cultures are real people with similar goals as ours - they want good jobs, and health care and they want their children to do well," he said.

The School of Criminal Justice includes majors in criminal justice and legal studies, an accredited police academy, an education training center, the Homeland Defense Initiative and a graduate program.

"Law enforcement needs cultural differences to be effective," said Fisk. "All of the pieces are here at Grand Valley. The decisions students make today will make a profound difference on their careers later."

Page last modified July 22, 2011