Gatepost Interview: Kei Li Assistant Professor of Sociology

Photo by Brad Leuchte

What is your resume and educational background?

I studied as an undergraduate in China at Nanjing University. Legal aid is offered at an undergraduate level, unlike in the United States. So, I studied law as an undergraduate student, and then after that, I worked as a police officer for a year or so. That experience allowed me to see what was really going on on the ground. In law school, what I learned was the black letter law on the books. Working as a police officer allowed me to take the first foray into law enforcement and see how law was actually implemented. … That got me interested in the criminal justice system, so I decided it was time to go back to graduate school and extend my vision. … Eventually, I got a scholarship from Indiana University – that’s where I got my Ph.D. in criminal justice. During my study at Indiana University, I met my advisor. He was a sociologist who specialized in research on the Chinese legal system. Because of him, I got interested in sociology – specifically sociology of law. That’s when I decided I was going to combine criminal justice and sociology. I got a joint Ph.D. in sociology and criminal justice.

How would your students describe you?

My observation is that students, on one hand, are really interested in criminology. They have this hunger for knowledge. … I’m hoping I represent the kind of instructor who has one foot in academia and the other foot in law enforcement.

What courses are you teaching now?

I’m teaching Sociological Perspectives on Criminology and the other course is a 300-level class called Research Methods.

Do you have any hobbies?

I’m a runner. I’m training for a marathon. … I completed my first half marathon race almost two years ago, and now I’m hoping I can complete the whole thing.

What would your students be surprised to learn about you?

The first moment I walk into a classroom, it wouldn’t immediately occur to them that I worked as a police officer. Probably because of the way I look.

What are some of your accomplishments?

In my field, there are people who barely leave their office and yet they still manage to write about law or justice. I really have to get dirty – I have to travel hundreds of miles and get down to the roots of the legal system to talk to people, to observe, to interview. … That’s what I feel very proud of. In my research, I get to go to the real world and find out what is really going on at the ground level. … Personally, the thing that makes me very proud is the fact is that I am able to go to the people who work in the criminal justice system – police officers, judges, lawyers and litigators. I talk to them, listen to them and observe what they have to deal with on a daily basis. I consider that an achievement.

What advice would you give to FSU students?

Aim high. That, perhaps, is the single most important message I want to get out there. A lot of students on this campus are first-generation college students. Their family members may have limited knowledge about academia, and I can tell some of my students are really intelligent. They are hardworking students. Many of them have part-time jobs. … Sometimes, I wish more students would approach me and say, “I don’t want to repeat what my parents have done, and I want to go further. I want to travel around the world. I want to find out professionally how far I can go.”  I’m still wondering how I can pass on some sort of imagination, aspiration and ambition on to the students. I want to inspire students. … I don’t think the students have been fully challenged, and I’m trying to figure out how to do that so students realize their full potential.