I am absolutely outraged by the Black History Museum board’s decision to lock out Hannah Stith.
I am an associate professor of criminal justice at Boise State University (I serve as chairman, in fact). You might wonder why a professor in Boise, Idaho is outraged. I was a student of Stith’s in fourth grade at South Wayne Elementary School in 1982-83. She demanded a lot of us. I look at my son who is in kindergarten and wonder how someone only four years older could survive her challenge. But we did – because she expected nothing less than greatness.
I remember her teaching with a fire that was unmatched. My mother and father taught me to be studious and to work hard. I remember my mom warning me about how difficult Stith was going to be. When I saw her, I think I was looking down at her at the time and thought, this 4-foot-something little woman is going to scare me? Not a chance! Well, I found out very quickly that my mother was correct.
She was hard. She was demanding. But I learned so much from her, much more than long division, spelling and writing. I truly learned the art of humility and hard work. In fact, I use her as an example practically every time I advise a student who is thinking about going to law school. You see, I have had great success in my academic career. What I share with you now is not ego or arrogance. It is a story to highlight the rigor that Stith brought to this world that affected me for the rest of my life.
I graduated third in my class from South Side High School in 1991. I went to Indiana University and double-majored in criminal justice and psychology with honors. I was named the top graduate in criminal justice. I graduated with a law degree from Indiana School of Law in Indianapolis. I went to the University of Nebraska-Omaha and earned a doctorate Pon a graduate assistantship (very few earn an assistantship while in their master’s, but I did). I studied under national scholars in violence (Julie Horney), quantitative methodology (Dennis Roncek) and courts and sentencing (Cassia Spohn).
I was hired by an upcoming university at Boise State (yes, the one with the blue football field). The university has grown considerably from about 15,000 to 17,000 to now 22,000 students with more doctoral programs coming online and a revolutionary general education program garnering national recognition. I earned tenure and was promoted to associate professor. I have been published numerous times in child abuse and racial/ethnic disparity in court-processing decisions. I chaired the university curriculum body during a time that general education went through major reform and that every degree on campus changed. I now chair a fantastic department that, according to the dean, is one of the best in the college.
I tell you this because I have had a lot of success; yet, when I advise students about attending law school, I use Stith as a prime example. With all of the success I have experienced, I can speak to two failures (in my mind) in my academic and professional career. One failure was earning 4 C’s in my first semester of law school. I was devastated. I’m an A student! I use this as an element of my advising students who want to attend law school. I tell them about my grades first semester in relation to my other academic failure – Stith’s section on Indiana history, the last C I earned.
So, this story helps me in my advising to show how difficult law school really is. But, I now use this story as an example of not only how challenging Hannah Stith was but also about how she has been with me in my career. I do the research, in part, because of her class. I remember discussing slavery and the Underground Railroad and constitutional rights. Today, my main research agenda is to articulate the factors that influence racial/ethnic disparity in court-processing decisions.
I wrote her a few years ago to let her know of her influence. She helped me set a course of success. Who would have known a lone C in Indiana history would have done that. So, to the board of directors and Pompia Durril, shame on you! Students benefit from Stith’s work. Whatever quibble you have, stop it! Unbeknownst to you, Stith sent this successful scholar on a course. Any further delay of exposure to Stith significantly alters someone else’s course. I don’t know the situation, and there are always two sides of the story; but it is obvious that Stith is student-centered to this day. Shame on you!
JEREMY D. BALL