Making a new course: A Washburn exclusive

Whitney Clum

  Students everywhere, rejoice. Instead of a book, the required material for one of the summer Criminal Justice course is a Netflix subscription.

Starting July 2, Controversial Issues in Criminal Justice will go over issues presented in the Netflix documentary “Making a Murderer” that plague the criminal justice system over a period of five weeks. These issues include subjects such as wrongful convictions, the CSI effect, forensic evidence on trial, different roles in the courtroom, and new complications in criminal justice caused by the media and technology.

“When I first started here, we were encouraged to find for our summer classes these innovative type courses, and there’s always things that come up in class that I want to cover…But if you design a class like this one, like the controversial issues class, you can spend a lot more time digging deeper into the subject matter,” said professor Melanie Worsley, who created the course. “Within Criminal Justice, there’s always kind of these hot topic issues to talk about, so it gives me a chance to really explore those types of issues.”

“Making a Murderer” encompasses many of the issues in the criminal justice system that make headlines in the news. It follows the story of Steve Avery, a man charged with attempted murder and sexual assault and spent 18 years in prison before being exonerated with DNA evidence. He ended up racking up another murder charge a few years later, while his civil suit against the county for wrongful imprisonment was still pending. The true story incorporates many of the elements that will be discussed in the class, and since aspects of his case are still active, the discussion around the case could change as the class progresses.

During the class, students will be able to see examples of nebulous situations that have been discussed in previous classes and explore them in a real-life case with real-life wrenches thrown into the circumstances that surrounded Avery’s case.

“I’ve been able to incorporate a lot of the forensic investigations type things into the class from the role defense attorneys and prosecutors play in discussing forensic evidence to the use of forensic evidence at trial,” said Worsley.

The class will connect with other courses taught in the criminal justice department and beyond so students from other disciplines can have more exposure to the justice system, how forensic evidence works and how some of these issues can have an effect on our culture as a whole.

“I think there’s a lot of controversial issues occurring with a lot of cases today. It’ll be interesting to see those type of topics be addressed,” said sophomore physical therapy assistant major Jesse Renfro. “It sounds a like a very interesting class. I’d be very interested in taking it.”

Since the class is taught as a summer elective course, it is allowed to have more of an innovative topic, pulling together bits and pieces of information taught during the school year and placing it within the context of an ongoing case. Ultimately, it helps teach students how to take information they learned in class and apply it to the real world.