Scholarship & Creative Work
Social Science Department
May 2012—Steven Davis, Ph.D., professor of Political Science and Director of the College’s Environmental Studies Program, was recently honored with the 2012 Underkofler Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award.
A student wrote in the nomination materials, “Professor Davis presents topics in an enthusiastic and energized way that motivates students to be enthusiastic too. He welcomes clarification, questions or challenges to the information that has been presented. Several times he’s been willing to meet with me or talk as we are walking to our next classes to explain concepts that I did not understand or was curious about.”
Dr. Davis’ expertise includes environmental and public lands policy, and politics and media. He was named a Fulbright Scholar in 1999. He began teaching at Edgewood College in 1994.
The James R. Underkofler Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching Award honors a faculty member, chosen by a committee of faculty, students, and alumni of Edgewood College, who exemplifies the highest standards of teaching excellence. The awards are given in honor of James R. Underkofler, a long-time senior executive with Alliant Energy, who retired in 1990. The awards pay tribute to Underkofler’s enduring interest in encouraging and promoting undergraduate teaching excellence.
2009—Carolyn presented a paper in September at the Midwestern Criminal Justice Association meeting in Chicago entitled “Female Homicide Defendants and the Use of Battered Woman‘s Syndrome in the Courts: An Examination of Data from a Mid-Atlantic Cities‘ Public Defender‘s Office.”
Her study analyses data collected from a public defender‘s office in the fall of 2008 from a large, Mid-Atlantic city for 35 female homicide cases (handled between the years of 1994-2007).
Results of descriptive statistics indicate that most female perpetrated homicides handled by this public defenders office were related to intimate partner violence.
Results further indicate that defense attorneys regularly use post-traumatic stress disorder, not battered woman‘s syndrome per se, as a mitigating factor to secure relatively light sentences for their clients.
Further, results indicate that when the female perpetrated homicides are clear cases of self defense in a partner violence situation, judges and prosecutors in this district tend to either drop the charges against the female defendant, give them no additional prison time (time-served), or give them relatively light prison sentences.
2009—Julie Whitaker and her students produced a film, in English and Spanish, titled “Bridging Borders.” Their film featured a collection of stories of Latino migrants in Madison. Over 150 people attended the first showing in Anderson Auditorium. A second showing was held in the South Madison Branch Library on Park Street.
Forthcoming 2010: Special Issue of Journal of Business Ethics on “Efforts and Obstacles in Creating Ethical Organizations and an Ethical Economy,” Guest Editors: Denis Collins and Julie Whitaker.
Article: Introduction to Central America and Mexico: Efforts and Obstacles in Creating Ethical Organizations and an Ethical Economy; Denis Collins and Julie Whitaker.
Julie has been an active participant in various symposia and conferences involving service learning, rural and immigrant labor, and U.S.-Mexican border issues.
Social Science Department Honors Long-Time Faculty Member with Distinguished Lecture Series
April 2012—In April of 2010, Sister Esther Heffernan, a social justice scholar and professor at Edgewood College, celebrated her 81st birthday and over fifty years of service in the Department of Social Science. “Her colleagues decided that the best way to mark these accomplishments was with an annual event exploring the themes of importance to Esther and her life’s work,” explains Cynthia Rolling, professor and chair of the social science department at Edgewood College. This event is the Sister Esther Heffernan Distinguished Lecture Series, and the first annual lecture was held in the spring of 2012. Rolling says, “Esther Heffernan is honored for her scholarship and a lifetime of dedication to social justice by this lecture series.”
Professor Heffernan, a widely-published sociologist, wrote Making it in Prison: The Square, The Cool, and The Life, a book based on research done at the Women’s Reformatory of the District of Columbia. Published in 1972, it is considered a seminal work in the field of social justice. She has also published numerous scholarly articles and advised agencies at the state and federal level. Professor Heffernan helped to found the criminal justice major at Edgewood College, and she has been dedicated to helping those affected by the criminal justice system. Professor Heffernan has been particularly interested in racial disparities and the history of women in prison. She worked with children whose mothers were incarcerated, and educated the public and government on criminal justice issues.
In addition to the Sister Esther Heffernan Distinguished Lecture Series, Professor Heffernan has been recognized and honored for her achievements in the greater community. In 2010, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice and the Rotary Senior Service Award from the Madison Rotary Club. She also served as chair of the Wisconsin Task Force on Money, Education, and Prisons. After over fifty years of teaching, Professor Heffernan concluded her teaching career.
As for the issues that will be addressed by the lecture series, Rolling says, “We expect that the lecture series will reflect Sister Esther’s dual commitments to the connected worlds of scholarship and social justice advocacy. Issues that relate most closely to Professor Heffernan’s work on gender and race in the criminal justice system, as well as the larger society, will most likely be the topics of future lectures.”
The first annual Sister Esther Heffernan Distinguished Lecture Series was held Tuesday, April 17th, 2012 in Anderson Auditorium, in the Predolin Humanities Center at Edgewood College. The lecture “The Invention of White People in Law and the Making of ‘The American’” was given by Jacqueline Battalora, an attorney and professor at Saint Xavier University in Chicago. Carolyn Field, an assistant professor of social sciences at Edgewood College, was responsible for organizing the event.
photo by Adam Brown
August 2010—After receiving the 2009 Lifetime Achievement award from the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice, Sr. Esther Heffernan analyzed her past.
"It was bittersweet because it made me think about the sources of my consciousness of race, poverty, gender, and patriarchy," she explained.
Heffernan's social activism began while earning an undergraduate degree from the University of Chicago. Her introduction into the realities of race and segregation came her first year in Chicago when she volunteered at the Friendship House on the South Side. Friendship House provided a place where Catholics could express their commitment to interracial justice in America. By educating the public, the house hoped to instigate change around the nation.
As Heffernan recalls, "When I knew Friendship House it was in the bustling 'Bronzeville' that was the result of housing segregation that kept the African American community between tight boundaries that sustained a range of businesses professional offices, small shops, and entertainment, etc. within its borders."
Because of desegregation and deindustrialization in the inner city, the self-sustaining community of African Americans was lost as the middle-class moved out, leaving the poor in the projects, eventually to be replaced by another urban renewal that tore down the projects to be replaced by more expensive and luxurious housing segregated by class. Shortly after the departure of the founder years later, Friendship House came to a slow demise due to the gentrification of the area. She noted, "The process reflects in many ways [that] unexpected consequences may come from 'a good thing'."
In graduate school at the University, Heffernan began a teaching internship at the essentially segregated public high school in Bronzeville that served the projects and the surrounding poor. As a result of working with the youth at Wendell Philips High School, she says, "I learned a great deal more than I ever taught." With her introduction to the public school system, she was able to develop a new perspective on the inner workings of the racial and class structures in the public schools. She explained that ironically, it was difficult for her as a young, inexperienced intern to motivate students, "particularly when teaching 'race relations' as a young white middle-class woman facing a classroom of youth out of the projects." Although teaching was complicated she believes "it was definitely a learning experience for me."
Both her experience at Wendell Philips High and the Friendship House shaped her perspective on civil rights and social inequalities. This work lead to a lifelong battle against social injustice and introduced her to a new approach to understanding issues.
Once Heffernan completed her Master's degree at the University of Chicago, she entered the Sinsinawa Dominicans. She taught three years in high school and then came to Edgewood College. Throughout her first twenty years at Edgewood, she developed a new focus with her experiences within the prison system and the development of the interdisciplinary major in criminal justice. In her 1972 book Making it in Prison: The Square, the Cool, and the Life, based on her research in the District of Columbia's women's prison, she describes the racial inequality and social imperfections of the American prison system. In order to refine her understanding of prisons and the lifestyle of the inmates, she interviewed all of the women and many of the staff with access to all the records. "I discovered a true microcosm of the rest of society. Those inside the prison were the real experts on the issues," she explained. Once she was acclimated to her surroundings, she was able to communicate with the inmates on a personal level which, once again, gave her a new perspective on the issues of race and crime.
An issue that she felt exemplified the linkage between race and crime was "the Draconian drug laws that made a race-charged distinction between cocaine and crack, with a one-hundred-to-one heavier sentence for crack—the cocaine form used in the inner city. Heffernan believes that this is just one example of how a government's politicization of an issue can cause harm to the very people they are theoretically trying to help.
"In the 1960s we thought prisons could be abolished and replaced with rehabilitation, but Nixon reacted by being more 'tough on crime' in the face of a widening civil rights movement," explained a frustrated Heffernan, who noted that the tough on crime movement "reflected a fear that the civil rights movement was threatening the economic and racial status quo, a fear continued in the later 'War on Drugs'."
She believes a real problem is reflected in a "fake façade of liberal communities, like Madison, who tend to be unaware of consequences of the 'War on Drugs' on their African-American populations." Since the 1990s Wisconsin has shown a rapid rise in drug arrests among blacks but not among whites, although their drug use is similar. The correlation between the continued economic segregation of neighborhoods, the War on Drugs, the lack of rehabilitation in overcrowded prisons, and the continued rise in African American imprisonment is hard to ignore. The marginalization of impoverished communities such as this is exactly what Heffernan's past and present organizations are campaigning to stop.
Heffernan shows no signs of stopping her fight against social injustice. She says she will "continue to be active in service and advocacy organizations and publish in the field." To date, Heffernan is the chair of the Task Force on Money, Education and Prisons, working to change Wisconsin's criminal justice system. She is on the board of the MATC Police Science Program, as well as Family Connections of Wisconsin, which helps bring children to their incarcerated mothers at Taycheedah Correctional Facility. She is also a member of the Dane County Task Forces on Disproportionate Juvenile Minority Confinement and on Racial Disparities in the Criminal Justice System. This dedication to social issues has spanned for decades and will carry on strongly into the future.
After a lifetime of perseverance and achievement, Sr. Esther Heffernan has learned that "you must see every perspective to truly understand."
—by Taylor Winum
photo by Adam Brown
View earlier articles about Esther Heffernan.