Tessa Gulley (C’22)

As a sophomore at Georgetown, I was still searching for my academic passion. When I took Prisons and Punishment with Professor Marc Howard, I found that spark. However, the topic of criminal justice, and more specifically criminal justice reform, didn’t fit well within an existing major and wasn’t a major on its own. That’s where the interdisciplinary program allowed me to explore the intersections of the academic fields that I was most passionate about: criminal justice reform and psychology.            

I was able to develop my interdisciplinary major with the guidance of my two faculty advisors.  My two advisors (Professor Woolard and Professor Stiles), with whom I cultivated great relationships throughout my IDST journey, were key components in shaping my major, especially my research questions. Professor Woolard’s unique experience in qualitative analysis research served as a guide through my thematic analysis project. Professor Stiles’ passion for criminal justice reform, specifically for the abolishment of solitary confinement in prisons, kept me passionate throughout the process. Without the help of my advisors, who encouraged me to take on this unique project and who provided invaluable guidance throughout the thesis process, my thesis topic might not have reached its full potential.

My research questions and approach evolved over my time in the major.  I started off with a research question that asked about the mental implications of solitary confinement, and I assumed that my thesis would take the shape of a literature review. By the end of my senior year, I completed a qualitative thematic analysis thesis in which six interviews with previously incarcerated individuals were used to understand the ways in which people experience and reflect on solitary confinement. By uniquely interacting with the previously incarcerated population, I was able to dive into the personal experience of solitary confinement, gaining a detailed and real understanding of the penal practice. 

The IDST Major is unique in that students have agency in deciding the track of the major. It allows students to fully embrace and enjoy our educational studies because we can pick the courses we take (courses that interest us!), develop a research project, and mold our major to our (most likely) post-graduate dreams. Because of the IDST program and the ability to fully explore my area of passion, I will be attending law school next year to become a social justice lawyer working predominantly in criminal justice reform.