Dr. Erin M. Kerrison joins Berkeley Social Welfare this fall as an assistant professor. One of our newest faculty members shares details about her research interests, passion for social justice initiatives and dedication to "understanding and applying remedies that improve social equity."
Please tell us a little about your educational and professional background.
Before I even knew that I wanted to design, empower and lead social justice efforts, I was always curious about who fit where and how those rules were even decided. I knew nothing of “policy,” “structural inequality” or “citizenship,” but I knew that belonging mattered and that far fewer people were “in” than should be. I started asking questions about who made the rules and drew these problematic borders, and then I began learning how to contextualize and develop strategies to solve those problems.
I hold a BA in sociology and philosophy from Haverford College, an MA in criminology, law and society from Villanova University, a PhD in criminology from the University of Delaware, and I was awarded a vice provost’s postdoctoral fellowship from the University of Pennsylvania.
My work extends from a legal epidemiological framework, wherein law and legal institutions operate as social determinants of health. Specifically, through varied agency partnerships, my mixed-method research agenda investigates the impact that compounded structural disadvantage, concentrated poverty and state supervision has on service delivery, substance abuse, violence and other health outcomes for individuals and communities marked by criminal justice intervention. Much of my research is informed by on-the-ground experiences including secondary education expansion for incarcerated students, building family reunification programming for women living in halfway houses and developing culturally relevant substance abuse treatment modalities.
What influenced you to pursue an academic career in social welfare?
For so many years I have admired and partnered with movers and shakers who are committed to social justice efforts that require and promote working side-by-side with individuals, families, schools, communities, organizations and government. Not only do social welfare researchers and practitioners build from these practices, but they are also committed to uplifting vulnerable and oppressed populations, many of whom are disproportionately impacted by dismantling criminal justice intervention.
Criminal justice agencies are state-funded institutions charged with ensuring public safety. They do not work in isolation, however. These spaces are tethered to a number of varied processes and contexts, all of which are recognized in social welfare discourse. Furthermore, the substantive convergence of research and application is a necessary element of sustainable social change, and I am thrilled to work within a community that values that praxis.
What first interested you in the position at the UC Berkeley School of Social Welfare?
I plan to actively insert my findings into the theoretical, policy and media discourse on structural inequality and health, with the aim of understanding and applying remedies that improve social equity. The School’s strengths in methodological diversity and rigor, producing evidence-based and competency-based knowledge and a tangible commitment to social justice made this position particularly appealing to me. It is obvious that the School of Social Welfare is wholly devoted to efforts that advocate for the underserved, locally and globally. Finally, knowing that Berkeley’s larger public mission is advanced through engaged scholarship pretty much sealed the deal.
What are you most looking forward to in coming to Berkeley?
To take on a position that requires constant exposure, confronting challenges and unimagined growth on a daily basis is truly a gift. In addition, being welcomed into a community that has pledged to nurture my long-term goals and ambitions is extraordinarily humbling. I am thrilled to help prepare informed and empowered students to build productive partnerships and realize their visions, and I am excited to partner with local agencies that also have a stake in that endeavor. I have already received an incredibly warm welcome from community members across campus I am very much looking forward to contributing to Cal’s legacy.
What are some of your goals for the upcoming academic year?
In addition to finishing my book this year, I plan to develop new courses that support our students’ needs, identify potential local research partnerships and learn as much I can about the remarkable array of resources and opportunities that exist on Cal’s campus.