Black History Month: A Q&A with Dr. Doshie Piper

February 4, 2021

Exploring Dr. Piper's work, experiences and vision of a more just system and society.

Dr. Doshie PiperAs we celebrate Black History Month and the Black leaders, change makers and innovators who impacted the course of our nation’s history, we also celebrate the Black voices within our own UIW community – voices like that of Dr. Doshie Piper. Dr. Piper is an associate professor of Criminal Justice in the College of Humanities, Art and Social Sciences and has made it her life’s work to understand gender and delinquency, reentry and community corrections, and to share her findings with her students. Since her arrival at UIW in 2013, she has also served on the University’s Black History Month committee, creating opportunities for students and community members to explore Black history, confront sometimes challenging conversations about race and learn about their role in the ongoing movement for social and racial justice. We asked Dr. Piper about her work, her experiences and her vision of a more just system and society.

1. Tell us a little bit about your background, personally and professionally.

I am Dr. Doshie Piper. I was born in Houston, spent my elementary school years in Louisiana, and my middle and high school years in Houston. I have always lived in what the sociological and criminological literature would call a socially disorganized community. I was considered a smart child, which I felt was misleading and deceiving, because I worked extremely hard. My brother on the one hand was smart – he didn’t have to work hard, he just did well. Me on the other hand, that was not the case.

I applied for and received academic scholarships and federal financial aid to begin college. My college journey is characterized by three institutions – one in East Texas, another in Houston, and finally, I landed in Ohio, where I completed my bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Because I entered the Ph.D. program, my mind was made up. Failure was not an option. I had people praying for me when I was not able to pray for myself. I had already relocated back and forth from Houston three times. I heard somewhere that the third time was a charm. I pursued my doctoral education in Juvenile Justice at Prairie View A&M University (PVAMU); initially this was a culture shock. I had grown accustomed to the University of Cincinnati (UC) and their way of educating. Campus life was a difficult process to adjust to. The way that students conduct themselves on a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) campus was very different from the Predominantly White Institution. The comradery that the students shared was something that I was not familiar with. My cohort was very close, and I was apprehensive of the intentions and motivations of my peers.

My professional life began in 2003 as an adolescent operations coordinator, but I want to talk more about when I started paying attention to the work that I was doing. This started at the Change Institute Center as a contract program counselor. I was responsible for collecting information about the clients from referral sources, conducting interviews and assessments and making treatment recommendations. Another aspect of my job was counseling clients, individually or in group sessions, to assist in overcoming dependencies, adjusting to life, and making changes. I then pursued employment with Riverside General Hospital, Houston Recovery Campus (HRC) as the outpatient program lead counselor. While I was at HRC, I managed a hospital-based outpatient treatment program for substance-abusing clients. I also developed a relationship with the adolescent program manager and he agreed to support me with collecting my dissertation data.

2. Who are your personal and professional role models?

My role models are people who believed in me when I did not believe in myself. My father John Piper and my aunt Althea Francois, who are no longer with me, both taught me how to be strong and to “fight the good fight.” My mother Janet Piper definitely modeled how to make wise decisions and how to be faithful. My mother has been active in this entire process, praying for me throughout the journey. My sister Alicia and brothers Ramses and Marcus who are my inspirations, inspired me to want to do something about a system that is designed to see young Black and brown boys and girls fail. My cousin Rachel also constantly supports me in all the decisions I make.

Professionally, I am blessed to have women in my life who have already traveled this academic journey, namely my aunt Linda and my cousins Samantha and Olga. I could not exist in academia nor had any successes without the loving support, encouragement, and contributions of all of my family members. In addition, some of my role models are friends and colleagues I have made throughout my academic career that I can call any time, day or night, and they always answer.

3. How long have you been involved with UIW’s Black History Month committee?

Since my arrival at UIW in 2013. I worked with Bishop Trevor Alexander and Ms. Wynette Keller to plan Black History Month activities in 2014. That year, Michael Mercer was very active, and we relied heavily on the Incarnate Word community to contribute their time and talents to the month’s celebration and activities.

4. Tell us about the Black History Month committee’s work and what kind of programming the UIW community can expect this February.

Dr Doshie Piper and Guest standing next to a posterA host of virtual events that illuminate, connect and transcend the known realities and deepens our understanding of blackness and Black America. One event (held in late January), Touching and Transforming, highlighted the institution’s contributions to Black Excellence through its alumni. We had an interfaith dialogue on race and racism in faith communities. Recently, we held a presentation on desegregation with Sociology professor, Dr. Roger Barnes on Central High in Little Rock, and a host of other events that attempt to shine light on the darkness of racism, but also illuminate the beauty of blackness and Black bodies. In an effort to highlight and showcase the skills and talent of our students and alumni, we will also have a student research showcase. The month’s activities will conclude with a presentation on the story of runaway slaves who sought freedom in Mexico and the Tejanos and many other groups who helped them on their journey.

5. You’ve presented on refereed works such as "Repairing Harm: Lessons Learned from the Central Park Five and the West Memphis Three" and contributed to publications like "Race and Justice: An International Journal." Throughout your impressive career, what research about race and the criminal justice system has impacted you personally the most? How can our society use these kinds of findings to create a more equitable system?

The findings or results from examining the social impact of false confessions and wrongful convictions of two different racial groups is always astounding. The policy implications and lessons we should learn, we soon forget. This type of research continues to identify factors that led to wrongful convictions of innocent defendants instead of a dismissal or acquittal. These factors that contribute to false confessions are often imposed and inflicted upon racial minority groups. Factors such as duress, coercion, intoxication, diminished capacity, mental impairment, ignorance of the law, fear of violence, the actual infliction of harm, the threat of a harsh sentence and misunderstanding of the situation. However, jurisprudence does not consider the impact and social implications of miscarriages of justice.

We need to connect to keep grassroots approaches funded. There is still power in the people. Similar to what was done in the West Memphis Three case, citizens in society need to organize, disorganize and reorganize if need be. There are numerous human rights, activist, advocacy and organizing organizations that already exist. As people with access and resources, we especially, with our friends, need to urge local political leaders and state legislatures to address these shortcomings of the criminal legal system. Make time for what is important.

6. Your research and expertise focus heavily on gender and criminal justice. Where has this research taken you, particularly regarding Black women?

Dr Doshie Piper speaking to a class of studentsTo a dimension of hell where human suffering is the rule not the exception, which is evident when I meet with women and girls in correctional facilities and they share their lived experiences with me. It has also taken me to the State Court of Justice in Brazil. I have had the opportunity locally to work with city council, the commissioners court, state representatives, county judges and CEOs and executive directors of organizations. However, that is not where I find joy. My work has connected me with numerous local organizations, and that is where I find joy. My research has connected me with the Interfaith Community Action Network (I/CAN); Grandparents Raising Grandchildren for a community partnership with juvenile justice and community corrections; an inter-denominational and inter-racial church partnership with True Vine and University Presbyterian Church; community educational organizations out of Austin seeking to collaborate on juvenile justice issues; meetings with representatives of the Center for Naval Analysis and the International Association of Chiefs of Police about 21st century policing; to name a few.

7. Are we seeing more diversity in positions within the criminal justice system (lawyers, judges, prosecutors, officers, etc.)? How can more diversity in this area improve the criminal justice system for all?

We do have more diversity in the criminal justice system, however the recent administration, along with deep rooted, intrinsic ideals that some peoples’ lives are more important than others, is evidence of a need for a more diverse justice system. Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Affirmative Action and consent decrees were instrumental in diversifying criminal justice. These policies make discrimination illegal and prohibit deliberate policies of discrimination and pre-determined selection criteria, which prevent many women and racial/ethnic minorities from obtaining legal careers. However, we still have a lot of work to do.

I don’t necessarily think that more diversity in a damaged system will improve the system. I say this because the subculture that exists within a dysfunctional criminal justice system will only be transmitted to this more diverse population. What will improve the criminal justice system is a systematic evaluation of its core beliefs. This is a difficult task for most people in the criminal justice system, because it requires them to challenge their existence, their integrity, their objectivity, their standards, and their principles about life and all that they thought they knew about them. Taking this already complex idea of dismantling the current system and adding components such as restoration, conciliation and reconciliation will improve criminal justice.

8. Have we made strides towards a more just criminal justice system in recent years?

Not strides, but baby steps to end mass incarceration, which disproportionately impacts Black and brown people. I can point to concrete policies that have been implemented like site and release and a reduction in the use of bail for pre-trial detention in non-violent low-level offenses, locally. San Antonio Police Department (SAPD) and Bexar County Sherriff’s Office are building relationships with organizations that are open to relationship building with law enforcement, like the S.A. branch of the NAACP; the Jewish Federation; the Muslim Community, Education and Culture Center (MCECC) and the Interfaith Community Action Network (I/CAN). More efforts need to be made to repair and rebuild community distrust in the criminal justice system.

9. You contributed an essay to "Ph.D. Game: Confessions of a Black Academic". Can you tell us about some of the themes of your piece?

This work was really a departure from the typical writing that I engage in. Most of my writing centers on or in justice studies or justice work that impact policies. Although, recently I have begun writing textbooks. This text was undertaken to inspire Black students who don’t have a history or reference of someone who has completed a terminal degree that it is attainable. My essay in the Ph.D. Game: Confessions of a Black Academic, “Sometime I Do Not Believe It” centered on themes of my personal, family and educational background; my college educational experiences; racism in East Texas; military exposure; good and bad ROTC experiences; married life while pursuing my dissertation; motherhood and university politics.

10. What advice would you offer to a UIW student looking for ways to educate themselves on Black history?

Do not, do not, do not be afraid or intimidated to talk about race and the intersection of race in whatever course they are in. I cannot tell you the number of times I have had to push, pull and prod students to discuss race when the content demanded it. I would remind students that they are here to learn, and they are the only one responsible for said learning. As educators, we can give someone something we are unaware of. If questioning is still too risky for some students, they should take classes that explore or focus various dimensions of the historical context of race and across academic disciplines. I mean let your sociology inform your anthropology, inform your philosophy, inform your biology and so on. Because you (and I, talking to students) better believe that there is someone Black that made contributions to every single major that is offered at UIW.

11. One of UIW’s DreamWeek events made reference to Dr. King’s Beloved Community – a global vision he had “in which all people can share in the wealth of the earth.” What does Dr. King’s vision of the Beloved Community look like to you?

Dr. King’s vision of the Beloved Community is not, one, color blindness, but despite one race, ethnicity, religion or sexual preference their humanity, personhood and dignity are driving relationships not arbitrary physical characteristics like skin color. This is going to require the U.S. to take steps like other countries in repairing the harms of chattel slavery and everything that followed. This may mean adopting restorative components of The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This also means learning from Germany's efforts to reconcile after WWII. These are two very good starting points to get us to what Dr. King referred to as a Beloved Community.