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New faculty member in Arts: Dr. Marcella Cassiano

Tue. Oct. 31, 2023

Congratulations to our new faculty members in the Faculty of Arts! We look forward to introducing each of them to you in the coming weeks.

Here we feature Dr. Marcella Cassiano, Assistant Professor in the Department of Criminal Justice.

Dr. Marcella Cassiano
"Dr. Cassiano's research success, particularly at this stage of her career, is simply astonishing," states Dr. Tracy Whalen, Acting Dean of Arts.

Photo credit: Jordan Ross 

Dr. Tracy Whalen, Acting Dean of Arts, enthuses about Dr. Marcella Cassiano and her research, stating: "I was struck right from the start by Dr. Cassiano's energy---her openness to people, to making connections, and to tackling urgent questions about criminal justice. She is the recipient of a one-million-dollar contract to study well-being amongst correctional workers, the largest international study of its kind. Dr. Cassiano's research success, particularly at this stage of her career, is simply astonishing."

Welcome Dr. Cassiano and thank you for sharing about yourself with us.

Dr. Cassiano (Bio)

Dr. Cassiano has a Ph.D. and a master’s degree in sociology. She did her Ph.D. in Canada at the University of Alberta and her master’s degree in China at Shandong University. Her bachelor’s degree is in social sciences (with a triple major in sociology, political sciences, and anthropology). Before joining The University of Winnipeg in July 2023, Marcella was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Memorial University (Newfoundland). Marcella was born and raised in Brazil but has spent most of her life abroad. She has lived in the United States, England, China, Singapore, France, and Canada. Marcella has an active research agenda with several projects intersecting surveillance, public safety, work, health, and organization. Marcella’s project portfolio includes a SSHRC Insight Development Grant 2021-2025) about prison policies and a significant contract (2023-2026) with a correctional agency in the United States to study correctional work and employee wellness. Because Marcella is a multilingual scholar, her academic work also includes translation, especially the translation of sociological works from Chinese into English.

We've invited our new faculty members to answer some questions of their choice. Here is what Dr. Cassiano had to say!

Arts: What course are you most looking forward to teaching at UWinnipeg – and why?

I am excited to teach "Race and the Criminal Justice System" (CJ-3121) in the Winter of 2024 for two reasons:

First, this course addresses what I believe is the most significant social problem within Canadian Criminal Justice Studies—the over-representation of Indigenous persons in Canada’s criminal justice system, both as victims and offenders.

Based on data collected by Statistics Canada, Indigenous persons are subjected to a terrifying and unacceptable reality in this country. For instance, 39-45% of Indigenous persons aged 35 years and older, depending on their status (i.e., First Nations, Metis or Inuit), report experiencing serious violence during childhood. For non-Indigenous persons, this number drops down to 25%. Indigenous people are no strangers to childhood victimization. About 25% of all substantiated cases of child abuse and neglect involve Indigenous children. Also, despite representing only 7% of the overall population aged 14 and younger, Indigenous children comprise about half of all children in the foster care system, which provides care to children affected by illness and death, conflict in the family, neglect or abandonment, and physical, sexual or emotional abuse—in other words, care to victimized children. When we look at sexual assault, almost 5 in 10 (46%) Indigenous women have experienced physical assault in their lifetime. In comparison, about a third of non-Indigenous women have experienced this type of violence. Statistics on homicide are also horrifying: Indigenous people are 6 times more likely than non-Indigenous people to be murdered. The over-representation of Indigenous people in the criminal justice system is also reflected in incarceration rates: Indigenous people are also 9 times more likely to be incarcerated than non-Indigenous persons. In every society, people commit crimes; that is normal. However, the over-representation of a specific population group in crime, as victims and/or offenders, is not normal; no specific population is inherently more likely to commit or suffer crimes. Specific individuals become over-represented in crime only if society creates conditions for that to happen. So, this course will analyze such conditions from the criminal justice perspective. I will lead my students to examine policing practices, sentencing, and correctional procedures that trap Indigenous people in cycles of violence. My lectures will also analyze and discuss economic marginality, childhood trauma, history of foster care placement, homelessness, stigma, and discrimination as potential factors driving the over-representation of Indigenous persons in the criminal justice system. As our students are tomorrow’s policymakers and criminal justice practitioners, I would like to use this course to think of strategies to change society, starting with our surroundings.       

Second, this course will allow me to share with my students some of the archival documents I am using to develop a project on the construction of indigeneity as a deviant category in Canada. Such documents, spanning from 1880 to 1936, detail the practices used by the government of Canada to micro-manage and surveil Indigenous people’s lives and force Indigenous people to leave their nomadic mode of life, including belief systems, to embrace farming and European values. The practices described in those archival documents outline the gradual and steady categorization of Indigenous ways of existing as wrong, deviant, and, in some cases, criminal. I hope to spark my students’ interest in knowledge discovery and critical thinking by bringing my research to class. I am flattered the Department of Criminal Justice entrusted me with this crucial course, and I look forward to it.

Arts: What was one thing you learned as an undergraduate that was/has been really important to you – and why?

Oh, my goodness! I learned a lot during my undergrad program! I want to share all that learning as tips for my students: Own your education. By that I mean, do not study to pass exams. Instead, study to learn; excellent grades will follow, I promise you. Do not take your professor’s word for granted; study and learn by yourself, and check and re-check everything. Get involved in projects and expose yourself to a broad diversity of opinions. Dare to disagree and question everything you hear and read. Pay special attention to ideas you disagree with; listen to them carefully and identify their assumptions and rationale. If you do not change your mind, you will have more arguments about why you disagree with something. Discover why you are here (at a university), list what you want to get out of it, and carve out the opportunities you need.  Develop projects with your professors and engage in activities that help you develop the skills you will need in your future career (identify those skills first). Do not wait for opportunities to "knock at your door." Use your professors as a resource; ask them to help you develop a career plan. Link your academic interests to the job market needs: You will need a job, so think about your courses and ask yourself if you could "pitch" the knowledge and skills you are learning to an employer in your targeted sector. If you cannot think of a way to tie your courses into future cover letters, re-think your decision to take them. Also, you will need a job, but you do not necessarily need to be an employee. Consider entrepreneurism, but if you need encouragement to start, that is probably not for you (successful entrepreneurs are self-motivated). Take your program as a job. Be friendly with your colleagues (they might become your boss tomorrow) and formal with your professors (they are not your friends). Be professional always. Take good care of your reputation; that is your second most valuable treasure (the first one is your health). Do not do anything that can tarnish your reputation, such as cheating or plagiarizing. If you are ever attracted to take a "shortcut," imagine the implications of dealing with a permanent annotation on your transcript stating that you lacked integrity at some point in your life. Dedicate your most productive time to school work. Be smart and set feasible goals; the first step to failure is pretending you believe in an unattainable to-do list. You will procrastinate; when that happens, take yourself seriously, stop, and do something useful, like laundry. Know that you are capable. Be brave enough to dream! Most stories of success begin with a dream. You will go through rough patches; do not question your ability when that happens. Instead, work hard and harder. Hard work outweighs brilliance. Try going through school as quickly as possible; if you linger around for too long, you may get lost and become academic memorabilia. Take care of your mental and physical health; everything depends on it. Eat properly (food prepared from scratch is cheaper and healthier). Benefit from the university’s relatively cheap gym membership and exercise. And when you need to (you will need to, trust me!), check in with a licensed, well-trained, good psychologist, even if you have to find money God knows where to pay for it (by the way, psychologists usually offer a sliding scale for students). If you do not love and care for yourself, nobody else will, and you deserve the best care you can give someone.

Those tips led me to develop an enduring sense of autonomy, accountability, confidence, and self-care. With them, I enjoyed my undergrad program in Brazil and navigated fairly well grad school in two different countries, China and Canada. I hope my students find these tips useful.

Arts: If you’ve come from elsewhere, what are/were you most interested in checking out in Winnipeg – or Manitoba?

I love hiking. When I am hiking, I feel grounded and peaceful. So, I would like to hike every trail in this beautiful province of Manitoba. This last summer, I hiked the Hunt Lake Trail (by Hunt and West Hawk Lakes). My next big hike will be the Riding Mountain National Park trails. I also would love to go to Churchill to see the polar bears and the fantastic northern lights, but that will require more planning. I hope to do it in 2024. 

Arts: And finally, a separate and optional question: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?

The most rewarding part of my job as an academic is interacting and exchanging with my students. Their ideas are fresh, provocative, unsettled, and disturbing—in a good way. They are my energy source and motivation to pursue excellence in teaching and research. So, I hope to meet all the students taking criminal justice courses eventually. I also would like to add that my door is open to everyone on campus; students do not need to take my course to engage me as a resource. If you are a UW student, please know that your success is my success. Count on my unequivocal support. You are not alone!