Gatepost Interview: Justin Turner, criminology professor

Ashley Wall / THE GATEPOST

What is your educational and professional background?

I received bachelor’s degrees in political science and sociology from Western Kentucky University. I moved on to my master’s at Eastern Kentucky University in criminal justice. Then, I went to Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, where I received my Ph.D. in criminology. From there, I worked at a university in Kentucky – where I’m from – for two years, and my partner got a job up here and was able to bring me on.

What classes do you teach here?

Right now, I’m teaching “Culture of Punishment,” “Crime and Media,” and then “Intro to Sociological Perspectives of Criminology.” 

How did you become interested in your discipline?

What I really enjoy about studying crime, as a criminologist, is that the notions of what is criminal and what is not is defined heavily by the boundaries of our society … understanding society and politics [and] understanding crime, and how we as a society come to define what that is. It helps to answer the bigger picture.

What would you say is the most rewarding part of teaching your discipline?

Sarcastically, crushing people’s dreams that this field is like an episode of “Law and Order” or “CSI.” But realistically, simply getting people to question the ideas of law and criminality that are pervasive – trying to make the idea break through that these things are political structures and impact a lot of things other than committing crime. 

What was your favorite undergraduate experience?

Graduation was very good for me, considering that with my other two degrees, I didn’t walk or anything, so it wasn’t really a graduation as much as it was moving on to the next stage, whereas graduating with an undergraduate degree meant a lot to my family. So, that was the most memorable moment that I had there, because of that experience. … When I initially started school, I wanted to do something different. I wanted to do biology, but I ended up hating it and really got attracted to sociology and political science. Realizing at that moment of my life that this is what I like to do – that was probably the most rewarding experience for me, taking a sociology course and realizing that this was something that interested me.

What is your favorite thing to teach?

The cultural ideas of criminality – how crime connects to our imagination, how we imagine the criminal to be. That would be my most exciting topic, and I try to center all my classes around that. It’s what my research is focused on, as well. 

What are some of your hobbies?

I really enjoy watching movies and trying to engage with them – again, a lot of my research and interests deal with how to tackle the imagination of criminality, so watching [crime] movies and TV shows is something I try to do as much as possible. But it’s not really a hobby because everyone does it. I’m trying to take up gardening, too.  

As someone who did not grow up here, what do you think of the area?

My favorite thing about this area is that it’s not laid out on a grid map, and people drive a lot more aggressively, which I enjoy. I know that’s kind of weird, but I do enjoy it. I grew up just outside of Louisville, Kentucky, so the city setting is familiar to me.

What is some advice you would give to FSU students?

Some advice I have for going into the field of criminology is to be educated on what exactly the field entails, because it’s a lot different than the expectations. So, if you want to go into the field, whether it’s policing or activist work or something, it’s a lot different than what we popularly think it is. Criminology is a completely different field than what television shows you, including what it means to be a police officer. Be aware of the realities of these professions.