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Shedding Light on Social Justice Issues Related to Gender, Sexuality, and Law

Stories | 04.10.19

Aimee Wodda, Ph.D., is an adjunct professor at Adler University and a scholar of gender, sexuality, and law. Dr. Wodda started teaching in the Online Master of Arts in Criminology Program in 2014 and is helping develop the curriculum for the Online Master of Applied Psychology (MAAP) emphasis in gender and sexuality studies. In Fall 2018, Dr. Wodda received the Online Campus Faculty Excellence Award for her exceptional effort and commitment in teaching for the Online Campus. She shared with us more about her background, current work, and her views on social justice.

What led you to want to pursue criminology and criminal justice?
My master’s thesis explored the links between the rise of criminology and the Sherlock Holmes stories. I enrolled in a criminological theory course in order to understand theory better. While taking that course, the professor encouraged me to apply to the Criminology Ph.D. program. Intrigued, I took a qualitative methods course in the criminology department “for fun” and was completely hooked.

I became interested in the complicated nature of gender, sexuality, and the law when I was managing a nightclub in Chicago. During our Monday night drag show, I noticed that performers were often called onto stage by an inmate number. It seemed tongue-in-cheek, but when I asked the announcer about it, he explained that many of the performers (mostly people of color who came from structurally challenged areas of the city) tended to get caught up in the criminal justice system for petty crimes, and some had been arrested for their participation in the sex economy due to the difficulty of attaining a legitimate job. When I entered graduate school, I recalled those performers and their circumstances and decided to devote myself to exploring the complicated intersections between gender, race, class, sexuality, disability, and crime.

What are you working on currently?
I am working with a small team as a subject matter expert to create course objectives for the new concentration in gender and sexuality in the MAAP program. I’ve also been asked help with the creation of a certificate in gender and sexuality. These projects are near and dear to my heart as a scholar of gender, sexuality, and the law—they allow me to use my research and teaching skills to build meaningful, social-justice oriented courses for Adler University students.

I’m also preparing a book manuscript for Routledge, a British multinational publisher, on the topic of sex-positive criminology—an article on the same topic was released in 2018 in Feminist Criminology. Also, last year, Dr. Brian Kelly and I published a collaborative piece in Groupwork that imagines how performance ethnography can be used as a teaching tool. Brian and I feel that performance pedagogy can help instructors and students destabilize, challenge, and deeply explore topics in the classroom. We position ourselves away from over-reliance on the traditional lecture model of performance which privileges voices and neutral bodies in positions of dominance and authority. We model a different way of knowing through the creation of visual and aural pieces intended to encourage students to become self-reliant and resourceful knowledge gatherers.

What is your favorite part about working with students?
I love guiding students through their capstone projects. The students I’ve encountered at Adler University come from a wide variety of backgrounds and bring different types of professional expertise to the table. The best part is how rewarding the experience turns out to be for both the students and me.

Why is social justice important to you?
I am deeply committed to social justice. Bringing up sensitive or controversial topics in the classroom is a great way to have conversations in a mediated space.  Because I view myself as a scholar who is committed to feminist, queer, and trans perspectives and methodologies, I see no reason to leave these standpoints out of the classroom. I try to make my teaching as comprehensive as possible by including topics that might not ordinarily be included in discussion, such as LGBTQ issues, exploration of disability, and attention to gender, including masculinity. When I teach face to face courses, I try to bring these topics to life for my students as creatively as possible by bringing in guest speakers, poetry, documentaries, and feature films in order to deliver a deeper and more nuanced presentation of topics under discussion and encourage projects that reach outside the classroom.

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