"I’m committed to the study of racial justice, and because I have a love for Bridgewater State and BSU students. I also want to incentivize the academic study and experiential learning of this critical social problem for our students and hope that more of them will work in this area and be recognized and rewarded for doing so."
Dr. Carolyn Petrosino: Building a Legacy of Racial Justice Work
Carolyn Turpin-Petrosino grew up in a home where the Civil Rights Movement was a significant topic of conversation, but the issues of race and the struggle for equality were also all-too-relevant matters for the Turpin family.
“I remember overhearing my parents giving my older brothers ‘the talk,’” said Dr. Petrosino, professor emerita of criminal justice and the founding chairperson of that department at BSU. “They were speaking to them in serious cautioning tones about how to conduct themselves if they experienced a police stop. Understanding the reality of their admonition really impacted me and greatly influenced me as I thought about what I wanted to devote myself to.”
Her legacy of teaching about the effects of systemic racism and hate crime continues not only through her scholarship and teaching – as a full-time professor until 2018, and now in retirement as an adjunct faculty member – but also through the recently created Dr. Carolyn Petrosino Challenging Racial Bigotry and Strengthening Unity Scholarship, which encourages BSU students to embark on race-related research.
“I’m committed to the study of racial justice, and because I have a love for Bridgewater State and BSU students,” she said, “I also want to incentivize the academic study and experiential learning of this critical social problem for our students and hope that more of them will work in this area and be recognized and rewarded for doing so.”
The seeds planted in her middle school years blossomed into a career focused on the racialization of crime and justice, in particular hate crime: the nature of these crimes, the social harms they cause, and the origins and resilience of hate ideology.
She created and regularly taught a course on hate crime at BSU for approximately 15 years.
“This area of study is a particularly pressing problem now as there appears to be greater boldness in the expression of bigotry,” Dr. Petrosino said.
Prior to her teaching career, she held various positions in the corrections system in New Jersey, including serving as one of the first female parole hearing officers in the state and as an administrator in a facility for youthful male offenders. Over the decades, she has published books, articles and chapters on hate crime, as well as corrections, juvenile delinquency, sexual offenders and parole decision-making. Dr. Petrosino served on the Massachusetts Juvenile Justice Advisory Council and has participated in a congressional briefing on the state of hate crime research and public policy in the United States. She is currently a co-chair of the university’s Special Presidential Task Force on Racial Justice.
Her academic journey began with her doctoral dissertation on the factors that go into parole decisions. Her focus on hate crime, however, was shaped in the late 1990s. Skinhead culture was nearing its apex in the United States and Europe, and in 1998, two high-profile hate crimes were committed: James Byrd Jr. was murdered in Jasper, Texas, by three white supremacists that June, and four months later, a gay American student, Matthew Shepard, was brutally beaten in Wyoming and later died of his injuries in Colorado.
“That said something to me,” Dr. Petrosino recalled. “I thought we better pay attention to this ugliness, the brutalization of people due to something they cannot change. At the time, not many academics were invested in hate crime as a scholarly subject.”
Her research began with the study of the historical roots of the systemic dehumanization of people of color in the United States, noting that what characterized these dynamics in the distant past, largely remains intact today. Her work also points to the sociopolitical implications of unaddressed white supremacy and its toxic expressions, which includes hate crime. Because white supremacy has been mostly met with inefficient responses, this racist ideology and practice is further entangled with the idea of American patriotism.
“African-Americans are keenly aware that they are always at risk for anti-Black hate crimes,” Dr. Petrosino said. “How do they live their lives understanding this reality? How do they understand their ‘freedom’ under such constraints? That’s something I want to continue studying.”
If she takes heart about anything related to hate crime, it is the “capacity for resilience and determination” by those groups most subjected to this threat.
She added that on a macro level there is hope, “if people grow tired of fear and suspicion, and take the time to see the humanity in others.”
Dr. Petrosino plans to continue with her research once the Special Presidential Task Force on Racial Justice completes its work.
Paul L. Gaines Sr., G’68: A Leader in Advancing Student Diversity
BSU recently honored the late Paul Gaines, as well as the institution’s first graduate of color, Sarah Lewis, Class of 1869, by renaming the Center of Multicultural Affairs in their memory. In September 2020, the center was officially dedicated as the Lewis and Gaines Center for Inclusion and Equity.
BSU officials have further honored Mr. Gaines’ contributions by establishing the Paul L. Gaines, G’68, Scholars Fund.
Mr. Gaines, who died in June 2020, served as an administrator at Bridgewater State for nearly three decades, including as the institution’s first director of minority affairs. In that role he helped to dramatically increase the diversity of the student body. He would later become the mayor of Newport, Rhode Island, the first person of color to serve as a mayor of a New England city.
“Paul Gaines is a Bridgewater State University hero and was an exceptional human being. His memory will be cherished forever in the annals of our university community,” President Frederick W. Clark Jr. said in announcing the scholarship.
Seeking to increase the number of teachers of color in the gateway cities of Southeastern Massachusetts (Taunton, New Bedford, Brockton and Fall River) and elsewhere around the state, university officials chose to target the new Gaines Scholars Fund to address this need. Gaines Scholars will be students of color who are pursuing a degree in education and who pledge to teach in a gateway city.
“We must produce more teachers of color who can then become the educational role models young students in our state so clearly need,” President Clark said. “As several of our BSU Afro-American Alumni Association members said recently about this important issue, ‘You can’t be what you can’t see.’”
President Clark added, “The name Paul Gaines was and is synonymous with promoting racial harmony, equity and understanding. These scholarships will see to it that his impact here at Bridgewater will live on.”
To support the fund, visit give.bridgew.edu/gainesscholars.