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Professor Rod K. Brunson joined Northeastern in July 2019 as the Thomas P. O’Neill Jr. Professor of Public Life in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice and the Department of Political Science. He also holds the position of Director of Graduate Mentoring and Diversity Initiatives at the College of Social Sciences and Humanities (CSSH). He collaborates on a wide range of research projects with the Center of Crime and Community Resilience (CCCR) and partners with many organizations within Boston’s communities of color.
Professor Brunson was ultimately drawn to the university by a shared vision with CSSH’s Dean, Uta Poiger, to improve diversity across the college’s faculty, staff, and students. Professor Brunson seeks to uplift the significant contributions across campus by communities and students of color and to strengthen relationships between local communities and the university.
His work with CCCR and other scholarly interests has provided Professor Brunson an invaluable platform to include voices that would regularly be excluded from important policy conversations. Professor Brunson attributes his research focus to growing up in a disadvantaged, urban neighborhood, witnessing firsthand, the resilience and fortitude fellow Black residents displayed despite their difficult living conditions. This lived experience underpins his view of high-crime communities of color as beacons of potential rather than symbols of deficit. CCCR also gives him the opportunity to prioritize community members’ voices and work collaboratively to achieve sustained public safety, though not at the cost of dehumanizing individuals.
“The center’s name is purposeful. Often we don’t recognize the resilience and pillars of strength in marginalized communities of color. The center’s name highlights that: we often don’t take stock of the vast potential that exists.”
Most recently, Professor Brunson’s research focuses on public policy’s role in mitigating the opioid crisis. He integrates qualitative approaches that give voice to those most affected by the phenomenon in addition to statistics and quantitative data. These efforts involve working on the ground, meeting with various community leaders, and conducting interviews with drug users and sellers. “I couldn’t do a lot of the work I do without community partners and stakeholders—often those are not in formalized groups,” he says. Working with individuals or smaller groups helps to ground insights about communities gathered from statistical data and allows police to create more comprehensive approaches that focus resources on education and job training, needs and services, and improving relationships.
Professor Brunson has been inspired by NU colleagues who have believed in students as part of multigenerational researcher teams, classroom peers, and future colleagues. His principles were inspired by a former professor that encouraged him to pursue higher education.
“I didn’t have any family members who had a Ph.D., so I thought if this accomplished person believes I can do it, why shouldn’t I?”
It’s just as important to Professor Brunson that he passes on that encouragement to future students, instilling them with the confidence to pursue goals they may have otherwise thought out of reach. Professor Brunson looks forward to teaching a Special topics course in Criminology and Criminal justice on Urban Policing in Fall 2020. He recognizes the value and insightful feedback students have contributed to his research—many of which have later become academics, attorneys, policy-makers, and social service providers.