On March 23, during Women’s History Month, John Jay hosted the first-ever Symposium on Women in Law Enforcement, sponsored by the John Jay College Department of Public Safety and the FBI-New York Office, and with generous support from Siemens Corporation. The daylong conference featured presentations from invited guests and John Jay faculty members on current topics in the field, including cybersecurity, community policing, and the opioid crisis. In attendance were alumni and students, as well as women employed in law enforcement, some of whom traveled from out of state to network and receive professional development on navigating the largely male-dominated field.
President Karol V. Mason opened the conference by recognizing John Jay’s status as a leader in criminal justice education: “As a college with over 55 percent female enrollment and many students aiming for a career in law enforcement, I can’t think of a more fitting place to have these discussions. By welcoming and encouraging more women leaders to join law enforcement, we’re more likely to make our communities safer and more just.”
“If you want to study criminal justice, you have to know not only who we deal with, but who we are. If women are underrepresented, that’s a worrisome thing.” –Professor Rosemary Barberet
John Jay faculty members Dr. Mangai Natarajan and Dr. Rosemary Barberet highlighted gender disparities in the criminal justice world, as well as the obstacles that contribute them, including maternity-leave issues and a lack of upward mobility for women. Barberet, who is editor of the journal Feminist Criminology, also announced the launch of a special issue that examines the experiences of women in criminal justice professions.
“There’s a fair amount of literature written about women as offenders and a huge amount written about women as survivors of violence,” Barberet said. “But there’s little on women in the criminal justice profession. If you want to study criminal justice, you have to know not only who we deal with, but who we are. If women are underrepresented, that’s a worrisome thing.”
“This is a wonderful career, but is it perfect? No,” Keesee told the audience. “But can it be perfect? Yes.”
Conference attendants also heard from women whose experiences in law enforcement opened the door to a range of related careers. Sarah Bynum, Director of Security at Siemens Energy, spoke about utilizing the skills she gained after 20 years of enforcement experience to enter the world of security. She now handles physical security, intellectual property protection, and crisis management at one of the largest industrial engineering companies in the world. “If you can solve a house burglary, you can solve anything,” Bynum said.
The idea for the conference came about when FBI-NY Supervisory Special Agent Dina Thompson contacted Dr. Diego Redondo, Director of Public Safety, with concerns that there weren’t enough training opportunities specifically for women in law enforcement. Given that the conference was the first of its kind, Barberet considers it a tremendous success and sees potential for it to grow in the future, including as a professional development resource for John Jay’s undergraduate students. “I think this is the sort of thing that our undergraduates should attend,” she said. “That way, they can see role models.”