We are academics based at the University of Melbourne – Diana Johns in Criminology in the School of Social and Political Sciences (SSPS), and Sophie Rudolph in the Melbourne Graduate School of Education (MSGE). We have come together with a shared passion for promoting opportunities for young people to succeed in every aspect of their lives. We seek to build collaborative approaches to solving ‘youth problems’ that are typically conceived in silos – crime/justice, schools/education, health/mental health – and thinking, instead, in terms of how these domains are interwoven and connected. Our focus is on social inclusion, community wellbeing, and seeing young people as a source of hope, strength and possibility.
Why we care
Diana: I completed my PhD research in 2013, exploring men’s experience of leaving prison from the perspective of ex-prisoners and post-release support workers. I then found myself in Wales, UK, in 2015, researching young people’s ‘prolific offending’. There I was tracing stories of children growing up amid violence, dysfunction and despair, with parents indifferent to or unable to meet their developmental needs. There, when children fell through the cracks in welfare and education systems, and when their behaviour expressed the pain and confusion of their life experiences, communities seemed quick to criminalise and demonise them. I soon realised the stories I was hearing and documenting were the same as those revealed by the men I had interviewed in my PhD work. It struck me that I was seeing the same issues play out – in different lives, in different parts of the world – and how, if we don’t intervene effectively to support kids to live better lives, the cycles of offending and imprisonment can become inevitable. But they don’t have to be – it’s possible to build hope and strength into young people’s lives. I’m interested in finding ways that we as a community – of scholars, practitioners, activists, educators – can do that.
Sophie: I have been interested in what social justice means in education for a long time and questions such as the following have animated this interest: Does education attend to or perpetuate disadvantage? How can difference be embraced in education rather than eliminated? And how might marginalised communities come to feel that they belong in what has historically often been an institution hostile to their knowledges, capacities and subjectivities? My PhD research examined Indigenous education policy and debates from the present and the late 1930s and 1960s to understand both the hope bound up in education and the strong assimilatory impulse of the education institution. I found that the (false) idea that Indigenous people are inferior to Europeans that the colonists brought with them to Australia is still present in slightly re-formed ways in the education system today, indicating the systemic racism that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students must endure when they attend school. I am interested in how this problem relates to issues of youth justice, particularly considering the over-representation of Aboriginal and African young people involved with the justice system.