Lifting Others Up

Valerie Jenness

Acting Vice Provost for Academic Planning and Distinguished Professor of Criminology, Law and Society Valerie Jenness was featured in UC Santa Barbara's alumni publication. An excerpt:

In this Alumni Spotlight Q&A, Dr. Jenness shares how she initially chose UCSB for graduate school, her current project that enables incarcerated individuals to earn a bachelors degree, and why some of the best sociologists are disguised as comedians.

What drew you originally to UC Santa Barbara to pursue a Ph.D. in Sociology?

I lived in California earlier in my life, out in the Mojave desert — in Rosamond and Palmdale —the sorts of small Western towns that many people have never heard of. From there, I moved to Washington state and, for many reasons, wanted to come back to California. For me, the draw was to the Golden State more than a particular UC campus. So the question became “which UC school?” I recall that when it came time to apply to graduate schools, I needed to take a look. I knew very little about graduate school, other than from various folks — including an undergraduate professor of mine — who encouraged me to go to graduate school. I was coming from a regional state school in Washington and I didn't have the kind of cultural capital that bestows all the things you probably should think about when choosing a grad school.

I literally drove down the state and stopped at all of the UC schools, from north to south, I just pulled into each campus and walked around, probably believing that I had some way of systematically assessing what campus would be best. Each UC campus is, of course, impressive. When I came to UC Santa Barbara, it struck me as a beautiful campus, with the mountains and the ocean surrounding it. I liked that it was close to LA, but not in LA. I liked the feel of the campus. And there was a very famous criminologist in the Sociology department at the time by the name of Donald Cressey. And I thought that was pretty cool. I had read a textbook by him as an undergraduate and thought “Oh, Donald Cressey is here”. Not that I knew what it meant to work with somebody famous like him. Not that he had agreed to work with me. As I look back on it, I didn’t have a clue about how to think about faculty and how to work with them as a graduate student.

After my “grand tour” I did a little research and learned that the Sociology department was (and is) nationally ranked. I can't remember the specifics of the rankings. But I knew it enjoyed a really wonderful reputation—and it still does! But so too did a lot of the other Sociology departments in the UC, so I don't know if that was dispositive. I don't recall meeting people and having any profound moments when I visited the place. I just walked around the campus and thought, well, this would be a good place to live. It was also a good place to have lunch. I recall a wonderful place called “Freebirds” — with great burritos — in Isla Vista.

The entire article is available online.