Op-eds by Shelby Hahner '19 and Emily Wilkes '19 on school shootings and bail reform, were published in two newspapers.
Most college courses culminate in a final exam or paper read solely by the instructor. This summer, Assistant Professor of Sociology Raj Ghoshal took a different approach in his Criminology course: each student wrote and submitted an op-ed to be considered for publication in a newspaper.
Op-eds are opinion pieces of 1,000 or fewer words that appear in newspaper editorial sections but are written by an outside individual. Op-eds place a high premium on writing quality and are designed to be read by a wide audience.
The op-ed assignment aims to help students deploy the knowledge they have gained in a course in a real-world forum, while building their ability and comfort in addressing varied audiences.
In the course’s first three weeks, students learned about crime and punishment in the modern United States through readings, lectures, and video discussions. Topics included the extent of and trends in crime, gun violence and school shootings, causes of the “great crime decline,” white-collar crime, mass incarceration, the war on drugs, bail reform, and more.
In the final week, each student selected a crime- or punishment-related issue to focus on in greater depth. Students researched multiple perspectives on the issue while learning about the format and style of op-eds. They wrote outlines of op-eds for two directly opposing positions (for instance, “ban the death penalty” and “expand use of the death penalty”) and then wrote a full op-ed for the side of their choice.
As the final piece of the assignment, each student submitted their op-ed to a newspaper in their hometown or in the greater Elon region. Newspapers consider op-ed submissions and typically publish from among the strongest submissions they receive.
As of this writing, at least two students’ op-eds have been published. Senior Education major and future teacher Shelby Hahner’s op-ed “Why Armed Guards are Not the Answer to School Shootings” was published in Pennsylvania’s third-largest newspaper, The Morning Call. Senior Strategic Communications major Emily Wilkes’ op-ed “Bail Reform Will Make the Justice System More Just” was published in the Wednesday Journal of Oak Park, Illinois.
Topics addressed by other students’ op-eds included gun rights, drug policy, prison rape, sexual assault, physician-assisted death, capital punishment, FDA regulation of product safety, “ban the box” laws, and more.