UTC, University High students visualize criminal justice ethics with paint

Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / University High student Jamaal Quiñones, 16, talks Friday with Chattanooga Fire Department senior firefighter Allen Green about his art at the Challenger Center.

Canvases covered in layers of poured paint opened discussions about ethics and criminal justice Friday at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

Katelyn Hancock, assistant professor of criminal justice at UTC, said she did the paint-pouring activity with a class last year but wanted to bring its lessons to a bigger audience this year.

Her ethics and criminal justice students created a few ethical dilemmas — including ones involving police officers facing bribes, being tempted to steal much-needed money and conflicts of interest with a drug-dealing sibling.

On Friday, the students presented the scenarios to high school students from the county's University High program. Then, they talked through different solutions based on ethical systems.

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"The department tries really hard not to influence our decisions," Ellie Yates, a senior in Hancock's class, said at Friday's event. "They just give us all the tools we need to make them."


Yates' group presented the dilemma of a police officer whose brother deals drugs but donates his earnings to a children's hospital. Does the officer turn him in for bringing drugs into the community or turn a blind eye for the sake of sick children?

The students then used paint, color-coded to represent different elements of and reasons for the solution, to tell a visual story of the dilemma. University High student Darlene Arriaga pointed to the light purple and gray swirls on her painting, and to the other colors used in paintings by her group.

"We all turned him in — that's represented by the light purple," Arriaga, who joined the University High program from Red Bank High School, said Friday. "But all of us had different reasonings behind it."

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Hancock said she hoped the college students benefited from teaching the high schoolers what they've learned in class.

"A lot of times when students are sitting in a class and kind of just listening to me talk, they're not getting as much out of it as if they were doing something hands on," Hancock said by phone before the event. "So I hope they have a memory about this, more so than just something that they dump on a test and forget."

The paintings will be up for sale in the university's Challenger STEM Center, and proceeds will be donated to the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Family Justice Center (though some students opted to keep their paintings). The center houses local agencies that support victims of domestic violence and child abuse.

Representatives from local agencies, including from Chattanooga Police and Fire departments, the Family Justice Center and Partnership for Families, Children and Adults, also worked with students to create their own large-scale poured paintings.

Many of Hancock's students are juniors and seniors, she said, and are starting to think about what careers they want after graduation. She often hears students say they want to go into law enforcement, work in victim services or go to law school after leaving UTC, Hancock said.

Yates, majoring in criminal justice and psychology, said she plans to attend grad school to keep studying criminal justice after graduating from UTC in the spring.

University High students also had the option of studying criminal justice, sociology or anthropology this semester, which is the program's first.

"I chose criminal justice because I think it has a really nice base in psychology, and I love learning more about people and how they work," Addison Howard, who joined the program from Chattanooga High School Center for Creative Arts. "I want to go into pediatric surgery."

Dariah Bradley, who came from Central High School, said she's interested in becoming a homicide detective, or maybe a case worker.

The program places high school juniors (and next year, juniors and seniors) in college classes as well as courses taught by county high school teachers.

"The college classes are 10 times better than high school," Tamara Williams, who came from the Howard School, said Friday.

Contact Ellen Gerst at egerst@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6319.