George Mason University
George Mason University Mason
George Mason University

Task Force on 21st Century Policing informs Laurie Robinson's HNRS 353

Laurie Robinson's HNRS 353 Class with former Attorney General Eric Holder in 2016

From immersing students in seminar-based learning to engaging them with guest speakers, Professor Laurie Robinson enriches her Honors College students’ development as informed citizens through her HNRS 353 capstone course. Entitled “Effective Responses to Crime: Policies and Strategies,” Robinson’s seminar encourages Honors College students to act as policymakers by organizing them into “Task Forces.” Each team covers a specific area of criminal justice reform and engages in discussion with guest speakers who are renowned leaders in the field. 

Robinson’s HNRS 353 curriculum reflects her work in criminal justice policy innovation. A seasoned Clarence J. Robinson Professor of Criminology, Law and Society, Robinson has over three decades of experience examining trends in crime and public policy, policing methods, the federal role in criminal justice reform, among other areas. In 2014, Robinson was appointed by President Obama to co-chair the White House Task Force on 21st Century Policing as a leading responder to the Ferguson events. “I developed recommendations and looked for best practices to address relations between community and law enforcement,” says Robinson, whose experience leading the Task Force translates to her teaching style. 

“What I bring to this course is I engage my students with the issues they are likely to encounter in a variety of fields, from legislature to nonprofit work,” says Robinson, regarding an evidence-based, student-led approach to be central to her HNRS 353 curriculum. Each “Task Force” is assigned to discuss policy innovations for one of six topics: corrections, juvenile corrections, gun laws, courts, drugs, and policing. 

Robinson’s class mirrors the operations of a crime commission, with students questioning a range of guest speakers who act as “witnesses.” The “witness” speaks for about half an hour, followed by a Q&A debrief. 

Laurie Robinson communicating with Eric Holder

Robinson considers Former Attorney General Eric Holder to be among her most memorable guest speakers. “Holder interacted with the students, listening to each Task Force’s recommendations and responding accordingly. He has a humorous, inviting way of communicating,” says Robinson. Another stand-out guest speaker was Baltimore’s Deputy Police Monitor Hassan Aden, who Robinson says offered insightful responses to students’ questions about “body-worn cameras, the intersection of policing with immigration, and the role of police in schools.”  

When covering the topic of courts, Robinson invited Executive Director for the Council of Court Excellence Cynthia Roseberry to speak with the class. “Her ability to describe the impact of mandatory minimum sentences on defendants, judges, and the court process was effective,” Robinson says of Roseberry. 

Honors College junior Tim O'Shea reflects positively on his experiences with the guest speakers in Robinson's 353 course. "The speakers were focusing on their personal experience and research, so the content felt less ideologically charged because it was more about objective evidence," says O'Shea, now an office aid for Professor Robinson. "I think it served as a strong career planning moment," continues O'Shea, "because students were able to see what positions in that field looked like and how those experts got there." 

What makes Robinson’s impact on the Honors College community even more powerful is the diversity of students she reaches. “I only have about one or two criminology majors in my HNRS 353 course per semester,” Robinson explains, “and I have found that STEM majors want the empirical grounding and fact-based approach I emphasize in my seminar. I have students who are biology, math, engineering majors, and they make our class discussions so rich and robust.” Robinson’s passion for teaching embodies what it means to prepare students to shoulder their roles and responsibilities as citizens.


By Jimmy O’Hara