Professor strives to change stigmas

Professor LaTosha Traylor uses her research of women in the criminal justice system to break down stereotypes in the Philadelphia community.

LaTosha Traylor, assistant professor in Temple University’s Criminal Justice program spent six months of her life shadowing the women whose circumstances she feels passionately about: the previously incarcerated.

Temple hired 58 tenure and tenure-track faculty members for the 2013-2014 academic year representing 11 different areas of study. Traylor said she jumped at the opportunity to study women in the criminal justice system in Philadelphia.

“I am amongst colleagues that are doing really innovative, and policy-relevant work,” Traylor said. “We’re not just keeping [the work] here, in Gladfelter, were really trying to effect change in the community.”

Traylor completed her undergraduate degree in her home state at the University of California Santa Barbara. Originally a criminal justice major, Traylor felt that she couldn’t connect ties between what was happening in the law, and how it affected families and individuals.

“I decided to take a women’s studies class, and I was hooked,” Traylor said. “ I was able to do the work that was interesting to me.”

After receiving her bachelors in Women’s Studies, Traylor moved to the University of Chicago to work with Beth Richie, who researches issues related to women and criminal justice. Traylor called graduate school the hardest but most rewarding part of her educational experience. She specializes in qualitative data, research that requires field and participant observation as well as experience in corrections.

During her time at the University of Chicago, Traylor conducted a study of women in the city who had recently been let out of jail. These women had to deal with the stigmas attached to being federal criminals which Traylor called their “scarlet letter.”

Many of these women experienced discrimination in trying to find a job, housing, and even in getting their children back into their custody. Traylor quoted one of the women, Camille, in her dissertation: “Yeah, so how many years is that held against you for your mistake, because nobody’s perfect? How long is it held against you for the mistakes that you made, especially when you are trying to make up for the mistakes?”

Traylor said one of the highlights of that study in her opinion was watching Camille re-enroll in college, picking up where she left off when her drug abuse took over her life.

While graduation with her Masters and Ph.D. from University of Chicago was looming, Traylor heard about a research and teaching position at Temple. She was drawn to the position because she said she knew there were struggles faced by previously incarcerated women in Philadelphia, too.

“To me, it makes sense, studying women in criminal justice,” Traylor said. “The tie is evident.”

Intersectionality, the term used to look at people through multiple lenses in their roles in life, plays a huge role in the study of women in prison, Traylor said.

“I look at how black women generate meanings in their roles as mothers, students, women, and workers after having been stigmatized and stereotyped as criminals,” she said.

Traylor listens to music and visits restaurants to unwind from her work, saying that these activities are what restore her from her work. At Temple, Traylor teaches a “Prisons in America” class, as well as an “Introduction to Research Methods” course, saying that teaching is the best way to have influence over social change.

She said that at the beginning of every class, she tells her students that she plans to learn just as much as they are learning from her. Diversity in the classroom and letting students know that their opinions are valid are high on Traylor’s list of priorities.

In six years, Traylor will be up for tenure, and she said she knows already that she will want to continue teaching at that time.

“Getting an education at a university is a privilege,” Traylor said. “Its great to feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing, trying to instill change within a community.”

Paige Gross can be reached at

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