Society & Culture
A Criminology Student Ready to Turn Theory Into Practice
Alli Scott came to Drexel intent on becoming a prosecutor. There was something about all those episodes of “Law & Order: SVU” she watched growing up that made her think it was the best way she could help other people. But then she arrived on campus and began to study criminology and the theoretical components of the justice system — why people commit crime and what sociocultural influences can predict behavior — and landed on a new future: crime analysis.
Scott, a self-described “bleeding heart” whose 10-year plan includes opening an early intervention nonprofit, believes that finding ways to help police departments more effectively deploy resources, rather than simply sending more police to areas with high crime rates, is the key to improving justice. Crime-mapping courses have opened her up to the relationship between the number of parks and bars in a neighborhood and its violent crime rate, for example, allowing for better assessments and more-efficient responses from police and other institutions.
“Now that we can identify some of the variables that are involved, how do we change the variables so we can break the link between these things and crime?” said Scott, a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Criminology and Justice Studies. “It’s also about looking at different neighborhoods and seeing the relationship between resources and crime. If you don’t have access to fresh food, how does that impact crime?”
Scott got a firsthand understanding of some of those issues during “Justice in Our Community,” a community-based learning course offered in the winter term of 2015. Professor Cyndi Rickards, the senior assistant dean for Community Engagement and assistant teaching professor in the College of Arts and Sciences, sent the class on a scavenger hunt of sorts to find a grocery store in the nearby Mantua neighborhood. After searching around, Scott said, she realized there were no options within walking distance — a far cry from the Los Angeles neighborhood where she grew up with a handful of grocery stores close by.
“There are so many communities that don’t have access to the stuff that I take for granted, so many things that I have that I feel are basic human necessities,” she said. “So, how do we do something about it?”
That’s the question Scott is trying to answer. In her time at Drexel, she feels she’s come closer. Rather than become a prosecutor and contribute to the growing prison population, she wants to get to the root of the problem and determine how imbalanced resources and police attention contribute to crime. Through hands-on classes like the one she took with Rickards, she’s developed an understanding of what it looks like on the ground in neighborhoods with increased needs — like how a five-minute walk away from Drexel’s pristine campus can reveal an entirely different culture and environment that feels almost like a different city.
“Experiential learning is one of the greatest things about Drexel,” said Scott. “Not just being in a classroom with a professor who’s lecturing … but also applying and practicing experiential learning, and learning that it’s not about just talking, but it’s doing, which is why I’m so focused on action.”
For the time being, Scott’s action comes in the form of service and volunteer work at organizations like LIFT, a nonprofit that was focused on breaking the cycle of poverty before it closed in 2015, and the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, which contributes to the mission to build and repair homes for families in need. She spent time at LIFT for the “Justice in Our Community” course, helping community members apply for benefits and services. She also worked at Habitat for Humanity as a Drexel Community Scholar, stocking the floor and providing direct service to clients, as well as managing the Drexel students who volunteered there as part of a CIVC 101 engagement course.
Down the road, though, Scott wants to open a nonprofit to make the most of the knowledge she’s gained at Drexel. After volunteering at LIFT, she sees an opportunity for a similar type of organization, but one that focuses on a younger population in need of support. Her family didn’t have much money when she was young, but she and her two sisters have all gone to college. She wants to work with students to improve college access so they can have some of the same experiences she has had.
“I’m the exception to the rule that people who come from the ghetto are not supposed to have good lives or go to college,” said Scott.
As she nears the end of her time at Drexel, Scott is ready to put everything she’s learned here to work helping others.
“I’ve spent the past four years identifying these issues. I’ve spent the past four years trying to understand and talk about them,” said Scott. “But at some point you have to stop talking and move into action.”