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Meet Criminology Prof Shannon Jacobsen

November 27, 2018

Assistant Professor of Criminology and Justice Studies Shannon Jacobsen, PhD, was inspired by her own experiences as an undergrad to investigate the role of gender in perceptions of risk and fear of crime on college campuses.

Shannon Jacobsen, PhD
Shannon Jacobsen, PhD

Hometown: Springfield, Virginia
Degree: PhD in Criminal Justice, Rutgers University
Research interests: Gender, crime and victimization; fear of crime and perceptions of risk; campus crime; public safety; communities and crime; social inequalities; mixed methods research

What did you do before coming to Drexel?
I was a lecturer of criminology in the Department of Sociology at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, where I taught courses on gender and crime, as well as criminological theory. During that time, I was also finishing my doctoral dissertation.

How did you become interested in your area of research?
As an undergraduate at George Mason University, one of my favorite sociology professors, Dr. Karen Rosenblum, asked if I would be interested in joining a group of students and faculty who would be investigating the meaning of diversity at Mason.

I had been fascinated by crime since I was a kid, and had become interested in gender and the ways in which it impacts our daily lives. With a short amount of time to figure out my research project, I happened to be taking a night class that ran until 10 p.m. As I was walking down a poorly lit, wooded pathway to get to my car one evening, feeling completely creeped out, the idea came to me. I wondered if other women worried about their safety on campus in the same way that I did, how this varied by time of day, if it prevented them from doing certain things on campus like taking a night class or attending an evening workshop, and — most importantly — whether men had the same concerns. In other words, how did gender shape women’s and men’s perceptions of risk and fear of crime on campus? And what exactly were women most fearful of?

The topic of my undergraduate research project later morphed into my master’s thesis and became the basis of my doctoral dissertation. It is something that I am continuing to investigate because it has such important policy implications for campus police departments and administrators at institutions of higher education.

What book, movie or song has recently inspired you?
I recently watched “The Hunting Ground” for the fifth or sixth time with students in my Gender and Crime class. The film inspires me both as an educator and as someone who studies gender-based violence; it depicts just how rampant sexual assault continues to be on college campuses, and how much remains to be done to protect our students from this ongoing problem.

When is the last time you did something “for the first time”? What was it?
I just moved to Philadelphia to begin my work at Drexel, so there have been a lot of “firsts” — exploring my neighborhood and the historical sites in the city, meeting new people, trying new restaurants. It has been quite fun!

If you had a year free from all responsibility, what would you do?
Travel with family.

What did you want to be when you were a kid? How did you ultimately decide to become a professor/researcher?
As a kid, I could be found watching crime shows like “Unsolved Mysteries.” After seeing Dr. Henry Lee testify in the O.J. Simpson murder trial around the age of 8, I knew that I wanted to spend my life learning about and understanding the causes of crime and violence.
I initially thought I was destined to work in a crime lab, but was forced to reevaluate when, during my second year in college, I took a cell biology course alongside courses on gender, criminal justice and the sociology of deviance. I quickly discovered that looking at slides under the microscope wasn’t nearly as exciting as learning about Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment; understanding the history of and rationale for various forms of punishment; or writing a paper about why women like Aileen Wuornos commit murder.

These experiences led me to shift my focus away from solving crime after it has occurred and more toward the sociological approach of understanding why people commit crime in the first place.

I didn’t figure out that I wanted to be a professor until graduate school, when I had the opportunity to publish my own research and to teach my first class. I found it incredibly exciting to be able to create new knowledge through research and to teach and learn from my students. Being a professor fuses these things together and keeps me learning on a daily basis!

What would students be surprised to learn about you?
I recently heard that Brussels sprouts are the most despised vegetable in the world. I happen to love them.

What was an impactful moment of your own college career? 
Throughout high school, I really struggled in my English classes, particularly with writing assignments. So, an impactful moment of my college career was when one of my first professors told me that I could write. It gave me the confidence I needed to succeed!

What do you wish you had known when you were in college?
I am a meticulous planner. I wish I had known that not everything in life can be so carefully mapped out in advance. Exciting job or research opportunities may pop up at unexpected moments and thwart all plans you thought you had…but these opportunities often lead to even better outcomes in the end. Knowing this would have saved me a lot of stress!

Which current event/issue do you think students should know more about, and why?
Every citizen of this country (not just students!) needs to understand how our presidents are elected, as well as how they can influence generations to come with things like Supreme Court nominations. If everyone knew more about this, they would understand the importance of exercising their right to vote in every single election and that not voting is not an option.

What does success mean to you?
To me, success means feeling personally and intellectually fulfilled in everything you do, respecting the person you are, and living without regret.

What do you hope to add to the CoAS community?
I hope to be a good colleague and to contribute to the excellent scholarship and teaching practices that the faculty in the College are engaged in.