"What part of criminality is a rational choice?"
"Is prostitution just a job or is it a violation of human rights?"
These were some of the questions that Nicole Hendricks, associate professor of criminal justice, asked her students in October in a class called "Women, Crime and Justice." Prostitution was the focus during this discussion; next up would be girls and gangs. It's all about examining the factors that shape the experiences of women as victims, offenders and criminal justice practitioners.
"Criminology is male-centered," Hendricks said after the class. "It is quite striking that most of the theories are from the masculine perspective and pretty much ignore women and girls."
Hendricks is out to change that. She was teaching criminology three years ago when a new Women's Studies program was established, and HCC began offering Women's Studies as an associate degree option. At the same time, she began teaching the course on women, crime and justice, which is listed under both Women's Studies and Criminology.
She says it's important to look at why a growing number of women and girls are becoming violent, why there has been an increase in the number of women incarcerated and why women often receive especially harsh sentences. Many of her students plan to go into law enforcement, and she wants them to learn "how to help forge a better justice system before they start the job."
"Some of our students get their first introduction to crime through the media, and those depictions are not often very realistic," she says. "I want to expose our students to a little more complexity in the understanding of crime and justice. We talk a lot about the interplay of what it is to be victimized and to be an offender."
Hendricks, now coordinator of the Women's Studies program, says the course meshes well with her own work as a researcher in the criminal justice field and her interest in social justice issues. A native of Buckland, Hendricks received her bachelor's degree in Anthropology and African-American Studies from Wesleyan University. While at Wesleyan, she belonged to a group called Connecticut Students Against the Death Penalty.
Hendricks, who is part African-American and part Italian-American, spent her junior year abroad in Ghana. "I felt like I wanted to experience a developing country and one with all black folks," she says.
In 2005, she received a master's degree in public administration from New York University. She also worked at the Vera Institute of Justice in New York, focusing on criminal justice policy.
Hendricks, 34, met her husband, Dale, in the African-American Studies program at Wesleyan. Her birth name is Henderson, and their mailboxes happened to be next to each other. After five years in New York, they decided to relocate to Western Massachusetts. Her husband is associate dean of admission at Amherst College. They have two children, five years and 17 months.
"We loved New York, but we were feeling like we needed some open space," she says. She worked from their new home in Holyoke for a while and then applied for a job at HCC. She began working at the college in 2006.
It was her first teaching job.
"It turned out that I really love it," she says. "It gives me the opportunity to take what I learned in the field and use that to teach people who are eventually going to have jobs in the field."