Blog and opinion
4 December 2017 • Juul Gooren
A Dutchman in Denver
I wanted to share some experiences with you of teaching in the US as compared to The Netherlands. I teach one online course (Criminological Theories) and two in class courses (Punishment & Society and Criminal Justice & Social Structure). One of the things I immediately noticed in talking to colleagues and students is how many people in the US are affected by violence and mass incarceration. These are topics I know a few things about being a criminologist but how close things get is really unsettling. Your crime and criminal justice system scares me! Let me give you a few examples.
In discussing the legalization of marihuana in Colorado a colleague recently told me that he wrote his dissertation on this topic after being affected by the social construction of drugs in a very personal way. He told me his brother was send to prison for more than fifteen years while he was in the possession of marihuana in the nineties. While in prison, he was frequently raped and subsequently send to psych ward for his own protection where he got hooked on opioids. While he is a free man right now little is left of him as he lives a secluded life without his wife and kids. He has his own room upstairs at his moms.
Two weeks ago I received a general message from the president at MSU Denver. “It is with great sadness that I share that a member of the Auraria Campus community was killed in last night’s tragic at a Walmart in Thornton.” I realized this was the exact same Walmart I passed by the evening it happened. My son noticed the presence of numerous police cars as we drove out of Denver.
The other day we were discussing constitutional rights in class and we were exploring probably cause and reasonable suspicion doctrines governing search and seizure by the police. At some point it got really intense when a student started talking about her dad being in jail and facing twenty years in prison. He was caught speeding on the interstate and when the police pulled him over they apparently found drugs in his trunk. According to the student the defense attorney was aiming for evidence obtained illegally.
In asking for an extension students have all kinds of reasons for not meeting deadlines. The amount of stories about heart attacks and cancer impacting friends and family members is staggering. Yesterday I received an email from a student who informed me she was barely present and when present rather absent-minded due to the fact that her husband was recently killed and on top of that she had given birth to her son a few months ago. In dealing with recent court hearings she was not able to submit her work on time.
These four random examples should obviously not be seen as the norm. A lot of nice and beautiful things happen here as well. At the same I am really not used to these extreme cases. Out here life seems more rough. In that sense the US is somewhat different from The Netherlands. I am sorry my first blog is so bleak. I promise you the future ones will be more upbeat. Please tell me about your first impressions of life in The Netherlands.
Juul Gooren is a visiting scholar from The Netherlands teaching at MSU Denver for the Fall semester. This is part of a lecturer exchange between THUAS and MSU Denver. He has a MSc in Criminology and a LLM in Criminal Law from Erasmus University Rotterdam. Juul writes this blog to his counterpart from Denver, Denise Mowder who currently works at THUAS. Denise will answer Juul in a blog of her own.