Ever since she was young, Serenity Perkins ‘24 has been an advocate for change. Fueled by her passion to help people in her community, within her own family, and throughout the world, she created a path that will do just that: her very own college major.
Serenity first came to Curry College to study Criminal Justice, knowing early on in her life that she wanted to make a positive impact in the community. However, while she was succeeding in her classes, she found that her interests did not exactly align with the Criminal Justice curriculum. Instead of pursuing law enforcement, she wanted to focus her studies on advocating for people in need.
“When thinking about my future, one of the things at the forefront of my mind was that I wanted to help people and communities in a way that was purposeful,” said Serenity. “Both of my parents struggled with substance abuse disorders and had to interact with the criminal justice system. Seeing how they were treated and viewed by society motivated me to make a change.”
Witnessing her parents battle their own illnesses, along with a system that concentrated on punishment rather than healing, Serenity was inspired to create her own career path. “I wanted to do something that restores communities, reverses how criminals and addicts are viewed, and changes the way we think about the system in general.”
And so, Serenity searched through Curry’s academic catalog and plucked out the courses that would best serve her passions in human rights, sociology, psychology, and social justice. Working closely with her advisor, Dr. Sandra O’Neil, Professor and Chair of the Sociology and Criminal Justice Department, Serenity wrote a formal justification for the new major that was presented and approved by the College’s Undergraduate Curriculum Committee.
“Serenity’s combination of sociology, social work, and criminal justice courses created a blueprint for future students interested in advocacy work that is not necessarily inside the current system,” said Dr. O’Neil. “She understood from early stages in her academic career that a broader understanding of the social inequity that underpins our society and the disproportionate effects on people and communities of color would be critical to reducing harm.”
In the fall of 2022, the College officially launched Serenity’s major-Transformative Justice. This new major allows students to understand how harm and violence create obligations and needs within communities, and that to break longstanding patterns of violence, the response must both hold those who create the harm accountable while facilitating healing for individuals and communities.
“Restorative justice is so important because it focuses on healing,” said Serenity. “It’s all about community building. If we’re able to help our communities more, we can help people before they interact with the criminal justice system. If we provide them with support, they might steer away from the dark path they were going down.”
Related: Restorative Justice Certificate
In designing this new path, Serenity hopes it will provide students with an opportunity to enact change. “An eye for an eye doesn’t really work from a criminal justice standpoint,” she said. “When students take classes such as social work practice and substance use counseling, they can better understand the factors that are negatively affecting people. If they understand it more clearly, they’re in a better position to help.”
Only a junior, Serenity has big dreams to chase, which include enrolling in Curry’s 5th Year Master of Arts in Criminal Justice program and working in a restorative justice setting. “I want to run restorative justice circles in prisons to help people like my parents who had mental health issues and didn’t get the support they needed.”
“Serenity is clearly very passionate and committed to advocacy work and service to those that are harmed by our inequitable systems,” said Dr. O’Neil. “She is an incredible person and is the change this world needs.”