On 13 December 2017, Dr. Kim Nickerson—Assistant Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion within the College of Behavioral and Social Science—led OIEP-sponsored graduate students from China in a discussion of the history and current status of African Americans within the U.S. criminal justice system.

Prior to the seminar, Dr. Nickerson asked participating students to view and reflect on the 2016 award-winning documentary "13th," which was written and directed by Ava Duvernay.  "13th" examines the origins and implications of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, adopted in 1865 in the aftermath of the American Civil War.  The amendment abolished slavery and involuntary servitude "except as a punishment for crime."  The exploitation of this exception—including by influential corporate interest groups—is at the heart of the documentary.

According to commentaries by scholars and activists interviewed for the documentary, the Thirteenth Amendment’s criminal exception encouraged powerful groups to criminalize the African American community.  These groups thereby played a partial role in creating a pool of labor that could be exploited in a fashion not far removed from slavery.

Dr. Nickerson’s presentation and discussion with the students—all criminal justice majors—furnished them with broader perspectives on historical and contemporary issues directly related to their studies. 

Reflecting on his talk, Dr. Nickerson said that he hoped "the documentary and discussion shed light on how people and groups in power have the ability to craft laws, policies, institutions, and practices that might ultimately prove to be unfair to large groups of people in the criminal justice system."

"The impacts of these laws, policies, and institutions," he continued, "ripple throughout society over time, and even across decades."

Dr. Kim Nickerson speaks to students
BSOS Assistant Dean Kim Nickerson (fourth from right) confers with OIEP-sponsored
graduate students.

Dr. Kim Nickerson speaks with criminology graduate students