Gatepost Interview: Elizabeth Whalley, Sociology professor

(Photo courtesy of Framingham State University.)

What is your professional and educational background?

I went to undergrad at Ithaca College in upstate New York and studied sociology there. And then, I went to graduate school and got my Ph.D. at the University of Colorado in Boulder – that took a long time, seven years of grad school. I just graduated last summer, so this is my first year at Framingham. I’m an assistant professor, so I teach criminology courses and sociology courses, but right now, criminology. My expertise is in my studies of incarcerated women, sexual assault and rape culture. Sexual assault and rape culture are pretty hot topics right now.

What are your thoughts on the #MeToo movement?

My favorite topic. I really support the #MeToo movement, and I think it’s exciting. I think a lot of researchers, criminologists and feminists have known for a long time that sexual assault and sexual harassment are way more common than most people know, so I’m glad that’s coming out. I really support that and I like seeing community support for people who are coming forward because that’s not usually the way it is – it’s usually a lot of victim blaming and shaming. I think we are starting to move away from that, but I feel pretty nervous about it because there is usually a political swing back. Sometimes, a lot of people come forward and then it’ll be a lot of resistance from the powers of masculinity. So, I’m definitely nervous for them when that happens, but I’m trying to be cautiously optimistic. I think it’s important that people, if they want to come out, talk about their experiences. I think it’s really important for people to see that it’s really common, because I think usually we like to think that somebody who is sexually harassed is somebody who is like this stranger lurking in the dark. Once we start realizing that this is everyone around us and we all can participate in certain ways, then that’s when change can happen – when it becomes more understood as something that anyone could do. So, let’s not think about it in terms of these “evil guys,” because what if it was your dad? What would you do? I think that’s a really important way to have a conversation. I think it’s been cool to see certain celebrities where their dads have been accused and then their kids say they believe it. That’s really cool, hearing of believing victims, even when the perpetrator is someone you know.

Why did you choose this career path?

When I was an undergrad, there were different concentrations within the sociology department. There was a criminology concentration and then there was a gender concentration. I was really struggling to pick which concentration I wanted to do. Then, I realized I could study both and so I look at places where crime and gender are both at play – so that’s sexual assault and incarcerated women. Both are really common sites that we look at. I realized I didn’t have to choose my interest. I could do something in both. I think when I was really young, I was confused about what some things were, but I knew I wanted to help people, I just wasn’t sure how. I was always interested in crime. I think a lot of people – especially our criminology majors here – are sort of pulled toward thinking about serial killers and murder and true crime and those shows that are like that. I had other ideas about what I might do, but this definitely found me and once I found sociology and criminology, I never went back. I knew that I wanted to do this, and I love teaching. I love being a teacher here and I could not love my job more. And I’m originally from here – I lived in Carlisle – so it’s nice to be back home.

What do you like best about working at FSU?

I think the people here – both the students and the faculty. I think the students are so wonderful that it makes going to work feel really fun. I feel like students are trying really hard but also relaxed in a nice way where we can get a relaxed learning environment going. I like to have a lot of humor in the classroom because a lot of the topics we study are hard and so, I feel like the students have really met me and are able to create productive environments. Also, the faculty here are so fun, too. It’s really nice to be on campus – there’s a good energy here and great people. I come in feeling like my friends are here.

What do you think is your greatest accomplishment so far?

I feel like the easy answer is my Ph.D., but I feel like that’s a little obvious. So, I worked for four years as a rape crisis counselor. I think that was some of my best work and my most satisfying work. Really directly helping people by answering hotlines, going to the hospital and going to court and really helping people in the middle of the night who are suicidal – that was one of the first things that came to my mind. I think that role is one that I am most proud of.

Do you have any advice for students at FSU?

Take classes that you care about. While you can’t do that for all your classes, I think you’ll do best and you’ll be most invested in classes that you care about and the things that you care about. Even if that means getting involved in clubs or creating a club or getting an internship. Don’t just take classes because you feel like you should. I think what part of college is for is, of course, to help you get a better job, but I think it’s also to help you figure out who you are and what you are interested in. And I think there’s such a huge opportunity here for you to explore that in different ways.

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