Professor selected to give lecture at ThinkFestU

Hindley Williams

Kelly Welch, PhD, a member of Villanova’s Department of Sociology and Criminology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, was selected to give a lecture at Philadelphia Magazine’s new ThinkFestU.

The new event is a part of Philadelphia Magazine’s annual ThinkFest, a one-day event for sharing ideas and experiences among Philadelphia thinkers.  ThinkFestU was added to showcase bold ideas and concepts among Philadelphia-area professors and is presented in a format similar to that of TedX.  ThinkFestU was held Friday, Nov. 14 at Drexel University. Welch’s lecture, entitled “Inside Ferguson: Punitive Consequences of Minority Stereotypes,” focused on the broader themes of the Ferguson shooting.  She explains, “the concerns that have vexed Ferguson should be potential concerns for Philadelphia” because of the inequality of the criminal justice system.

Welch’s research background centers around minority stereotypes and the extensive consequences of those stereotypes.  In her lecture at ThinkFestU, she explained the significance of the Ferguson shooting and how that event is a representative consequence of the racial profiling that occurs in the criminal justice system as a whole.  Her lecture highlighted specific areas in the criminal justice system that should be improved in order to ensure and reflect equality for all.  

First, Welch explains that the system as a whole should “correct for past mistakes by taking a look at some of the criminal justice policies that have negatively discriminated against racial minorities.” To do this, not only is an examination of current policies required, but also, as Welch suggests, a shift in these laws “so that [individuals] don’t continue to be punished.” One of the ways to correct for these mistakes, Welch explains, is to “examine ways that laws are constructed in a way that discriminates against minorities.” Previously passed laws should be edited to reflect equality, and all relevant parties should be cognizant of these edits so that future laws can reflect equal treatment.

But, Welch qualifies that persisting discrimination is not merely dependent on the language used in law, although revising the language to reflect equality is certainly a step in the right direction.  

“Differential enforcement of the law is also a problem,” she says.  “Laws can be equal, but they need to be applied equally.  Policies can address that, but it’s also about practice.”

Most simply, but perhaps most importantly, Welch explained the need to “educate the public.” Her lecture establishes, through the Ferguson shooting and how such discrimination is present all across America, that the criminal justice system has discriminated both in practice and in language.  But, Welch explains that education is not limited to the criminal justice field.  Educating the public, she says, will promote equality in all areas of society.

Welch hopes that, regardless of one’s field of study, the audience gained an education of the Ferguson issue, and how that speaks to many of the issues that plague Philadelphia, the criminal justice system and society in general.