Garnet Apple winner: Deena Isom Scott

Criminal justice professor advocates for equity

Deena Isom Scott’s course list in criminal justice and African American Studies becomes all the more relevant in the era of Black Lives Matter and protests against police brutality and injustice.

“Unpacking Whiteness,” “Miscarriages of Justice,” “Understanding Racial Identity,” and “Race, Crime, & Criminal Justice” all sound like headlines from the daily news.

Isom Scott grew up on the Georgia side of Lake Hartwell and knows that her lived experiences as a Southern white woman are very different from many of her students. And she acknowledges that at the beginning of a new class.

“I say, ‘Let’s talk about the white elephant in the room,’ ” Isom Scott jokes. “But I also let them know that I am very much an ally and an advocate for equality and equity and that my role in the classroom is more as a facilitator to help bring the lived experiences of the oppressed to the forefront. So we talk about positionality and privilege throughout all of my classes so people can understand where they are coming from and how that can bias how they see things, so they can counter those biases.”

She says her interest in the area began with criminal justice.

“I always enjoyed mysteries and understanding crime,” she says. “I was thinking I would be an FBI agent who solves the crime and puts the bad guy away.

“But you come to recognize that people who get entangled in the system aren’t bad people. We are all more than the worst thing that we have ever done.”

Teaching is central to my identity as a scholar. I definitely value my research, but teaching is a way to bring the things that I study to a broader audience.

The more she studied criminal justice, she began to realize that often a person’s interactions with police had very little to do with any mistake that person made.

“Inequality is pervasive all across the American criminal justice system,” she says. “As I engaged in more scholarship and learned more about critical race theory and the importance of intersectionality, race became so central to understanding other disparities. Looking through this intersectional lens you see people who face multiple marginalizations and are so disproportionately impacted and not just by the criminal justice system, but by all forms of institutions.”

Isom Scott’s scholarship helps inform her classroom teaching, the goal of which is to bring out these issues for discussion.

“Teaching is central to my identity as a scholar,” she says. “I definitely value my research, but teaching is a way to bring the things that I study to a broader audience.”

For her efforts in the classroom, Isom Scott has been awarded a Garnet Apple Award for Teaching Innovation.

“Dr. Isom Scott’s scholarship and teaching focuses on racial and gender disparities in crime and theories of African American offending,” Qiana Whitted, director of the African American Studies program, says in her nomination of Isom Scott for the award. “She is an outstanding instructor, a dedicated mentor to students and an active participant in the development of curriculum.

“Peer observations and student evaluations attest to her knowledge, enthusiasm and resourcefulness in finding new ways to develop effective pedagogical strategies in the classroom.”  

One such program that she hopes to bring to UofSC is the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, which works with local correctional facilities to create classes of half incarcerated individuals, half college students. The logistics of creating a program at South Carolina still have to be worked out, but it is just one of many ways Isom Scott works to engage her students.

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