Julian Thompson

Julian Thompson, Distinguished Alumni Honoree '23
Distinguished Alumni honoree ’23, Julian Thompson, Ph.D., holds space for the complex and nuanced identities of the people he works with. He supports them in resisting inequitable structures and racialized systems of power. He does this currently as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Criminology, Law, and Justice at the University of Illinois Chicago. Thompson is an accomplished lecturer, mentor, and researcher in the areas of racial/ethnic inequality, law and legal practice, violence prevention, criminalization and punishment, mental health, and alternatives to incarceration and rehabilitation. He began his educational journey at Oakton in 2005, and has gone on to make an indelible impact in the lives and communities of those he works with since then.

Recognizing the knowledge that comes from within
Thompson attended Oakton College then transferred to receive his B.A. in Social Work from Loyola University, an M.A. in Sociology from DePaul University, and a Ph.D. in Social Welfare from the Crowne Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice at the University of Chicago. He recalls his very first course at Oakton:

"A friend, who also went to Oakton at the time, like a good friend, a close friend who I knew since I was 11, she called me and said, “Don’t you want to go to college?” It was literally January, early January, it was during the registration period January 2005. I was trying to resist, and she was like, “Well if you come we can take classes together.” I was like, “That would be cool. I don’t know, though, I don’t think I’m ready.” She was like, “Boy come up here. I can help you enroll or whatever.” And so, I went. Once I enrolled, I was just on this train. Once I started taking classes, we ended up taking a class together, World Religions. It just so happened, I had already read the book. So I was familiar with it. I had read the book years ago, but it was being taught in the class, so it was really exciting. An interesting moment for me, to have already read something that was being taught by the professor."

Stewarding scholarly discourse through qualitative research
For his dissertation, Thompson started thinking about people with psychiatric conditions and how their lives were shaped and affected by criminal legal involvement; it looked at how therapeutic practices and punishment worked against the betterment of people with serious mental illness. He is now researching violence prevention and intervention, such as survivor impact and homicide investigations.

"I love qualitative research because I love learning about, learning from, people – and learning in community and thinking about people’s lives and their stories in complex ways that may or may not align with preconceived notions about their life. Most people that I talk to are marginalized folks. They are hampered by all sorts of problems and so, I love that, but then it feels like an academic exercise at the end of the day, and somewhat exploitative. I don’t like that part about it and what’s produced from it is academic journals. Those aren’t really accessible to the public in the way that people who usually read them are academic college students. It’s specialized language and knowledge, so that’s the stuff I don’t really enjoy, certain “cottage industry”. I love research though."

Creating a classroom culture that fosters self-actualization
This fall 2023, Thompson is teaching the course Race, Class, and Gender Dimensions of Crime and Justice.

"Teaching feels like a direct intervention in the lives of students in the classroom where you can, over time, you can see some kind of impact or change in students. Sometimes it’s within a few weeks because they get introduced to a different perspective or different set of readings or things that resonate with a feeling that they’ve had, but they couldn’t put words to. Or a perspective that they’ve had, but they couldn’t really clearly define and articulate it. That exposure to content, I feel like that was what happened to me. That exposure to content in the classroom helps some students self-actualize, or at least develop some idea of what self-actualization might look like for them."

Finding a common humanity and resilience in every story
With a progressive and justice-oriented approach, Thompson found a profession that resonated with his core set of values and developed a commitment and sense of purpose to it.

"I think what I find most interesting in all of the work that I do is that there’s always, I haven’t written about this explicitly, but, the fact that people – regardless of the messiness of their lives, regardless of the trauma or the pain or the injustice or unfairness that they face or the inequality that they face – that they find ways to make life meaningful and purposeful and their humanity is something that is no different from anybody else's, right? They care about the same things, they want some of the same things for their children and for their family. They want a better world, their communities to be safe, things like that. And quite frankly, they’re quite resistant. They are keenly aware of the stereotypes that might actually circulate beyond them and resist those things."