Binge watching a favorite TV show and spending hours lying in bed hitting the “next episode” button is how many college students spend the summer. Alyza Roman was no different, except that she was watching four seasons of “Cops,” roughly 38 episodes each, with her criminal justice professor, Dr. Lonnie Athens, and two fellow students.
At the beginning of the spring 2017 semester, Athens devised a research project in which he and three students studied and recorded police and suspect interactions using cases from the reality TV show “Cops.”
“We were looking at police and civilian interactions using Dr. Athens’ theory of domination and subjugation as the platform,” said Roman, a senior criminal justice major.
The collection of data took a month and an half to complete, organizing 417 cases from “Cops.” Each member was given a season to review and then analyzed the findings as a group.
“Emma was the best at quantitative analysis,” Athens said. “Matthew was the most meticulous and Alyza had the most determination to see it through.”
He added that Roman became a “second in command.”
They evaluated each case using Athens’ theory, which only gives two possible roles to play within every human interaction: one dominant and one subordinate. They focused on the different ways male and female suspects interacted with police, attempting to identify a pattern between the genders.
Athens said that he usually looks for students who have excelled in his classes. He invited Roman onto the project after she asked him for career advice.
“It was an opportunity to see more of the academic field, and to see if it was something I wanted to pursue or not,” Roman said.
The two other students on the project were criminal justice major Matthew O’toole, who graduated last spring, and Roman’s longtime friend Emma Chinh-Ngo, a senior psychology and sociology major at UC Davis.
The team presented their findings in Canada.
“I came onto the project while I was visiting Alyza all the way from California,” Chinh-Ngo said. “She’d been working on the project during my visit, and naturally I got curious now that I could see what she’d been talking about first hand.”
Athens welcomed Chinh-Ngo onto the project after she joined Roman at a meeting over the summer. O’toole was offered a spot after he approached Athens about an independent study opportunity. According to O’toole, Athens “basically saved his life,” as the research project helped him fulfill his last two credits needed to graduate.
“It was a really great group,” O’toole said. “We made jokes and laughed. Everyone was extremely bright and fun to work with.”
“Overall we looked at the variable of perceived sex and gender and we found that though there were more male suspects than females,” Roman said. “They both went through similar stages of domination-subjugation when interacting with police.”
The group shared their findings at the Society of Study of Symbolic Interaction conference in Montreal on Aug. 13.
Athens let Roman and Chinh-Ngo take lead on the presentation. However, O’toole could not attend.
“It was an interesting experience,” Roman said. “Because being the only undergraduate students there, the audience had a larger base knowledge of what we knew.”
Athens said that he was impressed by Roman and Chingh-Ngo as they remained poised in front of many scholars.
“It’s always a pleasure to see students grow in front of you,” Athens said. “Grow into the role you see them want to do.”
Payton Seda can be reached at Payton.firstname.lastname@example.org.