Meet the September 2023 GradBird Scholar: Yasmin Odeh

The Graduate School has selected Yasmin Odeh as its September GradBird Scholar recipient. GradBird Scholar is an initiative to recognize graduate students for their scholarly endeavors at Illinois State University.

Odeh completed her Bachelor of Science in English and sociology at Illinois State University and is now in her second year as a graduate student. Ever since high school, she has had an interest in the court system and decided to further her study in the sociology master’s program. She hopes to discern why young people often find themselves trapped in continuous legal issues and how the justice system could exacerbate or assist those in that situation. In her free time, Odeh enjoys bike riding, exercising, and spending time with family.

What is your favorite part of the Sociology program at Illinois State?

My favorite part of the sociology program is undoubtedly the faculty, who are immensely supportive and available. I actually attribute my presence in the program to my undergraduate professors and mentors, Dr. Christopher Wellin, Dr. Susan Sprecher, and Dr. Intan Suwandi, who motivated me to further my academic and professional career by continuing my education. Because I knew the faculty in the sociology department were incredibly welcoming and inspiring, I only felt comfortable going on, and the experience only got better. I thank, also, Dr. Richard Sullivan, Dr. Thomas Burr, Dr. Wib Leonard, and Dr. Marion Willetts for my lessons learned and their endless support. I cannot deny that my perception of the world has enhanced because of my professors, and I’m so thankful for the seats I got to have in their classes.

Do you work with a specific faculty/staff member to help with your research? What has your experience been like working with them?

I work with Dr. Susan Sprecher, who is a distinguished professor with a joint appointment in both the Sociology and Psychology departments. I am very lucky, as Dr. Sprecher is an exceptional researcher, person, professor, and coach, who has accomplished so much, including the creation of a scale to measure the propensity to experience compassionate love. Dr. Sprecher has made the strenuous process, with the heavy writing, research, and general work necessary for my project, a little less tedious. She offers just the right amount of push, and I couldn’t be more appreciative of the opportunity to work with her.

Can you explain your research and the importance of it within your field?

Broadly speaking, my study is about how the general public may choose to prosecute drug offenders and what individual characteristics may play a role in someone’s decision to punish or rehabilitate. In addition, I will look at whether there is a difference in people’s prosecution when the type of drug changes and when the offender is in a higher or lower social class.

This study will be administered in the form of a vignette survey, which provides hypothetical descriptions to respondents on which the subsequent survey questions are based. In each scenario, a man will be described who is either of a higher or lower social class and was charged with possession of either powder or crack cocaine. In a second scenario, he will be punished, rehabilitated, or both. Respondents will be asked several questions about their reactions to the offender and their sentence. Individual factors, including gender, age, race, religiosity, college major, political identity, and the propensity to feel compassionate love, are considered in the analysis.

My research will be helpful largely to scholarly researchers and those involved in the world of politics. In the field of sociology and criminal justice, this study could offer an understanding of majority views by the public on the criminal justice system and how it operates, which would allow for an expansion of—or supplement to—theories on punishment, the sociology of drug addiction, and associated prejudice. Additionally, compassionate love scores have never been examined in connection with decisions about punishment, which is what this study can add to literature on the compassionate love scale.

Why do you enjoy researching this topic and what more do you hope to learn about it?

This specific topic is of interest to me because of wider issues within the U.S. justice system, such as high rates of re-offense, mass incarceration, and the overcrowding of prisons. In addition, considering the disparate policy regarding cocaine in particular that remained from the 1970s to 2008, and to a lesser extent today, it is important to consider whether the discrimination that was made between powder and crack still exists in the mental framework of American people, caused by the policy, which put down the same sentence for 500 grams of powder cocaine and 5 grams of crack cocaine.

Ultimately, I wish to observe whether any trends exist across the named individual factors when it comes to perceptions of a drug offender, perceptions of powder versus crack cocaine, views on how a drug offender should be treated by the courts, possible prejudice against a certain social class, whether a higher identification with compassionate love predicts one’s perceptions of the case, and other more minor ideas.

Primarily, this study will highlight what the public thinks regarding criminal justice approaches and, specifically, which approach is most suitable for a drug offender who is also suffering from addiction. The question to be answered is: Is punishment or rehabilitation more effective for a drug-addicted offender, and what do the people think?

What do you hope further research about this topic will do to benefit the greater of society?

Related future studies should reexamine similar individual difference factors, such as religiosity, political identity, or the ability to feel compassionate love, related to decisions about punishment, in order for a more exhaustive understanding of whether such variables are correlated with punishment decisions. More importantly, criminal justice approaches should be examined in-depth for a closer-to-accurate understanding of what the ramifications and advantages are of different approaches so that our system can be improved to better fulfill its purpose and potentially produce reformed and productive citizens.

Ideally, results of such studies would supplement policy changes related to the assistance of offenders who have the capacity to be reformed and reintegrated back into society, as prisons are increasingly becoming more crowded, and offenders are more often than not returning to jails and prisons after release because their time served did not serve them well enough to deter them from future crime, as it should have.


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