Class of 2021: Justice Studies Grads Work to Improve Policing

RIC Justice Studies Allison Barry sits next to a monitor in the RIC television studio
Rhode Island College Impact

Lindsay Tahan, Allison Barry and Kaisha Luciano are putting their justice studies major into action through a series of webinars intended to help train law enforcement officers.

Lindsay Tahan, Allison Barry (pictured above) and Kaisha Luciano recently graduated from the Justice Studies program at Rhode Island College – Tahan and Barry with master’s degrees and Luciano with a bachelor’s – and all three did much more than simply study their field. They put justice into action through a series of webinars intended to help train law enforcement officers across the state.

The project began last November, with a Dialogue on Diversity and Inclusion grant from the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and the Committee on Dialogue, Diversity and Inclusion. A team from Rhode Island College, led by Professor of Sociology Jill Harrison and including Tahan, Barry and Luciano, collaborated with police departments from North Providence, Providence, Central Falls, Johnston, and RIC to create a set of five webinars addressing topics like racial profiling, restorative justice and cultural competence.

Tahan and her peers were carefully selected to participate in the project. “They selected students based on academic standing and Justice Studies perspective,” she explains. “I applied because I enjoy taking advantage of opportunities where I can make a difference. I believe it’s important to take advantage of every opportunity that involves informing others to better this world.” 

With the help of Melissa Medenciy and Matthew Eisemann from the RIC TV studio, the team connected with police officers via Zoom to brainstorm and create the presentations. 

“There are five different trainings and they are each around an hour long,” explains Barry. “Forty minutes of it is our presentation and research and the last twenty minutes shows the officers answering questions, giving feedback on the conversations and what they think about the subject.”

Each training is the answer to a different inquiry around restorative justice in law enforcement and police-community relations. 

RIC Justice Studies student Kaisha Luciano seated in the RIC television studio
Kaisha Luciano in the RIC television studio to record her webinar.

Kaisha Luciano, who identifies as Afro-Latina, decided to highlight racial profiling, a discriminatory practice, versus criminal profiling, a legitimate law enforcement technique, and how implicit and explicit bias put communities at risk. “We talk about the four levels of racism – starting from personal bias all the way up to systemic and structural racism. We examine how they are all rooted in slavery and persist up until today where racism continues to negatively impact Black people and people of color,” she says. “We also address the weaponization of police and the different ways police interact with Black and brown people, compared to their white counterparts.”

After graduation, Luciano is looking forward to acing her LSAT and attending law school to become a criminal defense attorney.  

RIC Justice Studies student Lindsay Tahan seated in the RIC television studio
Lindsay Tahan in the RIC television studio to record her webinar.

For her part, Tahan worked on themes of restorative justice and mindful enforcement. “I picked these questions because I felt most passionate about them,” she says. “I have learned quite a lot about restorative justice through Jill Harrison’s class discussions and I am a strong advocate for promoting a culture of health and wellness.”

Mindfulness is a practice that she believes improves communication, increases empathy, fosters kindness and improves job performance. “Mindfulness can explore new levels of potential towards self-awareness, compassion, wisdom and peak performance,” she notes. “Officers will learn evidence-based skills that, when cultivated, can change their relationship with stress, enhance resiliency and improve performance under stress.” 

Barry’s focus was on cultural competence and restorative practices. “Cultural competence is the commitment to understanding and authentically communicating with people across cultures. It requires us to first, step back and ask ourselves who we identify as, what our norms, biases, and customs are, and how these factors impact our interactions with different communities,” she says. “Once we are able to identify these factors we can begin to demonstrate our sensitivity and awareness of culture.”

“The restorative justice training provides a breakdown of the difference between retributive justice and restorative justice and how each of these models statistically impacts communities across the country,” she continues. “The training also introduces restorative justice tools. These tools are not just for law enforcement. All people can benefit from learning tricks of self-regulation and curiosity, especially when advocating for controversial causes. These are tools that open up conversations, make people feel comfortable, and get better resolutions to problems by working together instead of issues becoming frozen in damaging clashes.”

The members of the project team applaud the police officers from around the state who collaborated to make their vision a reality. They include Detective Lt. John A’Vant, now retired, President of the Guardians Association and occasional adjunct instructor at RIC; Chief James Mendonca of RIC Campus Police, who recruited officers for the question and answer portions and is also part of the panel of experts; and individual police officers representing a variety of departments. 

As the project nears completion, Harrison, with the help of Mendonca, will encourage police departments around the state to utilize these new resources, available to them for free courtesy of Rhode Island College.

“The segments will be uploaded into a nationwide network that will permit police departments across the country to access the training provided by us,” explains Tahan. 

These three students have worked hard and feel satisfied with the final product. After graduation each of them is looking forward to applying the knowledge they gained in their studies to community-led conversations for change and committing themselves to integrating activism into their everyday lives.