Gatepost Interview: Zeynep Gonen, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Criminology

What is your role at FSU, and what does your job entail?

I’m a faculty member in the sociology and criminology departments. I teach courses in sociology and criminology, mostly criminology. In sociology, we have different majors and criminology is a big major, and I’m one of the faculty there. So, my role is teaching, but I also try to engage in other activities – trying to organize events and of course serve on certain committees and support students in different ways.

What is your educational and professional background?

I have an undergrad in economics. I received my undergraduate degree in Turkey, which is where I am from. I thought economics was a major that I would get a good job from. Then once I finished, I realized I wanted to learn about society and other things that interested me. I got accepted to a Ph.D. program in the U.S. at Binghamton University. So, I came to the U.S. to study sociology and to be a teaching assistant in the university’s sociology department. I became more and more interested in the issues of prisons and police, especially because of what was going on in the United States. I focused more of my studies around those issues, which then connected me to criminology. I went back to Turkey in 2011 and continued to work there at a couple of universities. I also worked as an academic journal editor. There were political problems happening in Turkey where academics were being affected. I was being affected by it, too. Because of my political beliefs and position, I was no longer able to work there.  I returned to the U.S. four years ago when this position in the sociology department was created as a solidarity position with academics in Turkey. I really liked it, so I’m here to stay.

What do you like most about working with students at FSU?

I really like the students here, in terms of their diverse backgrounds, their class positions, meaning they are not necessarily coming from the wealthiest segments of society. I like to serve this student body – I like to engage with them. I think their knowledge is coming from their experiences, and it relates to what I’m teaching most of the time. If I’m teaching sociology or if I’m teaching criminology, I think most of the time, there are real, personal, direct connections to what they’re experiencing, and it is great to see how FSU can be a place where people can make sense of their experiences. My field especially allows me to create that connection and find that connection with the students, and I really appreciate that about the students here. Also, most of our students are also working and have other things going on in their lives and this, to me, is much more real. I want to serve real people. I appreciate the student body here, the whole student population. The difficulties, the various backgrounds, the kinds of things that they bring to the classroom – all of them really. It’s in line with what I’m trying to do as an educator, and what I’m trying to teach. So, it really makes sense to me to be here.

What is something that your students would be surprised to learn about you?

I used to be a yoga teacher. I’m really into dancing. They would be surprised to know that I could dance anywhere outside in public if I feel like it. If they see me in a public space dancing, they shouldn’t be surprised.

What are some of your hobbies?

Movement stuff – I like doing things with my body. I find it healing. I’m really into reading poetry, and I’m starting to write more and more. I also like hiking. I can say that nowadays, I’m getting more into writing poetry and imagining myself more as a poet in the future.

How has COVID-19 impacted your job?

Like many others, I had to take things online. It seems like online classes might require less work, but on the contrary, it’s proved to be really labor-intensive. We have to think about many different ways of teaching as not everything could be easily transferred to an online medium. Also, finding ways to engage with my students in the online venues – either by Zoom meetings or on the discussion board in the Blackboard – I had to research, discuss with my colleagues ways to teach better in these environments,, and it is really a different way of teaching in many ways, and it definitely created more work. It became a little bit disappointing, not only because of the online situation, but how COVID has impacted many of our colleagues and students. Their lives have been disrupted. Not being able to reach out to them, not being able to understand the difficulties, not being able to help has also been a bit disheartening. This is also something that is still happening. We’re losing students, not necessarily health-wise, but in terms of what they were doing here. Some of the students can’t come back and cannot continue their studies, at least for the moment. Those are the types of things that I still struggle with – I struggle with how to help, how to support, how to be useful at this time, when everybody is obviously impacted, including myself.

Do you have any advice that you’d like to give to FSU students – especially given the difficult times we’re in right now?

Know that the most important thing is your health and your well-being. We are living through unprecedented times where there are multiple crises. It is not just an independent issue. It’s an economic crisis, political crisis, global warming – there’s so many crises that are going on, and it is impossible not to be impacted.  One thing that I can say that I also try to remind myself, is to take care of yourself. Try to take breaks. Self-care is such an important thing, especially in these hard times.