In Perspective – Despite personal obstacles, all are survivors

Dr. Conrad Gubera - Professor of Sociology

Dr. Conrad Gubera – Professor of Sociology

As a sociologist, but more often as an interested observer of human behaviors, I have often wondered about the personal lives of those students who are enrolled in classes I teach. Occasionally, I get to know students, usually my academic advisees, on a more personal basis and often I learn more about their personal lives and behaviors than perhaps I should. This occurs because they want to discuss issues or are seeking counsel.

Although I am completing nearly four decades of service to our institution, I still get surprised, even amazed, at what I learn from these students. For the many others with whom I have less contact, I wonder about their joys and sorrows, successes and failures, relations and embarrassments. And I wonder how these affect their studies, life choices, and self-esteem.

I share this pensiveness because Monique has asked me to provide the “perspective” for the current issue and she has shared the letter which is published in the corresponding section. I was moved by its contents and expression and immediately wondered if this was the experience of a current student (or someone she knew). I thought this due to an out of class assignment I have assigned to students in criminology classes. The topic was victimization and how it relates to the ongoing study of criminal behaviors. Assuring students of the strictest confidentiality, I asked them to write about themselves, or someone they know, who has been a victim of a criminal act.

In a brief descriptive statement they were to tell if it was first or third person, what had occurred, was law enforcement notified (or involved), and what after effects had occurred. Victimization literature is filled with long term, life changing, often traumatic outcomes that have left negative impacts on individual victim’s lives. I have used this assignment in six different semesters and although I have kept no records or duplicates of these sensitive writings, I have a general memory of the nature of the students’ expressions.

Without exception, ever, all students

have been victims or intimately knew persons who were. I always offered students a third option which, in lieu of private knowledge, allowed for a review of a victimization from a current popular or professional literature source. Not once was this option engaged. Thus from a collective population of over two hundred students across five years (the course is offered only once each academic year), everyone could personalize a criminal victimization. Most would probably have been classified as misdemeanors while a minority would certainly have been classified as felonies. Only a few happened on campus while the vast majority occurred off campus or before involvement with our campus life. Maybe in one half of the felonies, law enforcement was notified, statements taken, evidence secured, and investigations opened. A very few ended with an arrest and prosecution.

The considerable majority of these victimizations were property related. The usual thefts and larcenies, burglaries, auto thefts, and stealing (not uncommon to many of us). The personal crimes were usually common assaults, fighting, or few robberies, and in five percent of the total, sexual assaults and rapes. The last victimizations were often as vividly recalled in detailed interaction as today’s letter. Not one of these personal victimizations had been reported to the authorities. These accounts expressed anger at both the offender and the victims, especially at the misplaced trust that had been assumed and the confidence in personal judgment which had been partially destroyed. Of all victimizations the long term effects sustained by the rape victims were the most debilitating and acute as stated by these students. These episodes involuntarily produced feelings of anger toward the offender and empathy for the victim. I often wonder how much of this occurs without being brought to public attention; where the victim suffers in silence without any sense of justice or recompense? And in my mind I know the rationalization that the offender easily developed to explain his role in the behavior.

Yes, this letter in today’s issue disturbed me, as it should you. It is a serious criminal act. And to a lesser degree, so are all the victimizations I recount. I continue to teach my classes, explaining my academic discipline and its relevance, and yet many times wondering what personal, private obstacles and situations the students in front of me have had to overcome or are grappling with in their minds and memoirs as they sit there. It is better that I really don’t know; I can simply appreciate them for being there and seeking their degree despite the many private occurrences which make it harder to achieve. Tacitly, I’ll believe that in so many different ways they are all survivors.