Inspiring Wildcat: Kiana Hawley ‘23

If you were to check the background of Kiana Hawley ’23, you would find that she’s ridden in a police car, been at the scene of multiple crimes and even appeared in court. But the Johnson & Wales Providence student doesn’t have a rap sheet. These are all experiences she’s had as a student majoring in criminal justice.

Some people may think that criminal justice is a controversial field of study. Kiana would probably agree . . . but that’s actually one of the main reasons why she chose this degree. “I think that studying criminal justice in today’s social and political climate can be a criticized choice, but ultimately it is up to our generation to reform and restructure our system. More people who are passionate about this should be proud and encouraged to become involved in a system that is changing with our generation,” she said.

As the vice president of the university’s Criminal Justice Association and a standout student (she’ll graduate a year early through JWU’s SHARP program and eventually plans to pursue law school), Kiana is leading the change she wants to see. Here’s her story.

Kiana Hawley standing in Gaebe CommonsWhy did you choose JWU?

I really wanted to go to a diverse school and escape my “hometown bubble.” JWU has a diverse student body and that was something that was really important to me. I think especially being a criminal justice major, I wanted to be in class with students who have different perspectives and experiences than me. I wanted to be in classes that were reflective of the diversity within the country. Even generally, I find that discussing and learning topics with a variety of people with their own differences and similarities is crucial to broadening your learning and worldview, which I think is a very valuable piece of college education.

"I wanted to be in classes that were reflective of the diversity within the country."

What has your experience been like so far?

I have really loved my academic experience at JWU. The number-one reason for this would be my professors, who have been so dedicated and committed to the students, especially during COVID, which took over during my first year.

I think learning and studying for a degree in criminal justice is something that should be much more experiential and less “traditionally academic,” which is one of JWU’s highlighted attributes. All of my professors have had years of experience in the field which not only makes for great anecdotal stories during class but also provides authenticity in what they are teaching. Many topics in criminal justice are not clear-cut and have a variety of issues and considerations, so learning from those who have first-hand experience offers practical and academic approaches.

Speaking of experiential learning, you had an internship with the Rhode Island State Police. What was that like?

I did ride-alongs with troopers conducting traffic stops, patrol and responding to accidents, and I spent time in dispatch, observed police-citizen interactions and worked on traffic reconstruction. I was also able to work with the court officers to create arraignment dockets, file and update court and arrest records, input arrests into the databases and closing arrests as needed and occasionally investigative work. The coolest part for me was being able to attend court sessions with the officers and seeing that whole process, as well as running judicial errands to the Attorney General’s office and going to see the judges to get warrants signed with the troopers. This experience really solidified my passion for criminal justice and ultimately pushed me to pursue law school after graduating from JWU.

"In my career, I hope to work in criminal law and help shape the law and its application to be more uniform and fair to all peoples."

Why did you decide to minor in psychology?

I have always been very interested in psychology, and my first year, I was fortunate enough to be in a collaborative-learning program with Professor Paul Sylvestre, Ph.D., and Professor Jessica Fede, Ph.D., who integrated our learning of criminal justice with considerations of psychology. As mental health and criminal justice are heavily intertwined, I decided to minor in psychology to better advance my perspectives and understanding of those who I may deal with throughout my career. Psychology humanizes people and it is incredibly important for those working in the criminal justice system to see perpetrators, defendants and inmates as real people and approach restoration of the system and problem-solving with that in mind.

Kiana in Providence and Kiana in court

Can you speak on the Criminal Justice Association and your role as vice president?

The Criminal Justice Association is a student-run club/organization that invites students of all majors to participate in discussions of criminal justice issues. In a typical meeting, current events are shared via a PowerPoint presentation, where all the students are given the facts and circumstances of the event and then the floor is open for discussion. The association is really great in the sense that it facilitates conversations between students in a non-academic classroom setting where they can share and elaborate on their perspectives and learn from others as well. Many times, hearing other opinions and perspectives can change your original opinion or strengthen your existing stance. The club provides an opportunity for students to find their voice and become passionate and opinionated on current events (and larger implications of these events).

Is there anyone in your life that inspired you to major in criminal justice?

I have always been close with my dad and have many of the same interests as him, including criminal justice and law enforcement. He earned an undergrad degree in pre-law from Michigan State University, and, although he is not working in the criminal justice field, it has always been a fascination to him that carried over to me. Due to moving, family and circumstances out of his control, he never was able to pursue a career in criminal justice, and I think this inspired me to choose a career that he would be equally as interested in too. I am very glad I did because I have found my passion in criminal justice issues and topics and know that I am making him proud in my academic endeavors.

Criminal justice is a historically male-dominated field. How has that impacted your experience/outlook so far?

Criminal justice has been something I have been fascinated by since I was little, and my parents raised me to believe that I could do anything in the world that I wanted to, so it wasn’t until I was older that I even had the realization that the field was nearly all men. Even upon this realization, it actually just made me want to pursue a criminal justice career more.

I also think that the field has become incredibly more diverse, which is so important since the system should be representative of the U.S. population that it serves. However, even while embracing these advancements, it’s important to not negate the difficulty and challenges that many continue to face within their involvement in the system, such as minorities and specifically minority women. I don’t think that the historical demographic of white men dominating the system should dissuade those outside of that demographic from pursuing a career because it takes individuals to diversify the field and without people breaking down those barriers, it will remain the same.

"… It takes individuals to diversify the field and without people breaking down those barriers, it will remain the same."

What advice would you give to someone who is interested in studying criminal justice?

I would advise similarly to my last response, that it takes individual people with the right mindset and drive to make any substantial change in their community, the state, the country and the criminal justice system as a whole. I would encourage those who may feel defeated or apprehensive about becoming involved in a field that needs restoration to not allow public opinion to discourage you but motivate you. It is very easy to criticize something, especially when there is reason to, but it takes much more to be a part of enacting change and be committed to problem-solving rather than criticizing. Throughout learning about criminal justice, there will be moments that are shocking, disheartening and disturbing, but the system is in need of people to not give up and help put change into motion.

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