Dr. D. Scharie Tavcer is an associate professor in the Department of Economics, Justice, and Policy Studies at Mount Royal University, and one of this year’s Distinguished Alumni Award recipients. Here is Scharie’s message to graduates.
Those of you who’ve studied the justice system know that many of our offenders have awful histories. Not all, but a majority of those individuals have traumatic childhoods that involve neglect, violence, addiction, exploitation and homelessness into their adulthood.
Many of these people do not feel like they matter. It was hard work providing treatment to those offenders. Many of whom were older than me, who had served half of a life sentence, who were disturbed, or who may not ever be released from prison. This felt challenging but I loved it. I was an important worker in the justice system and I took the job seriously, but I quickly learned that no matter how qualified or important I was, these offenders would not be motivated to engage in treatment if I didn’t treat them well. I didn’t matter what I said or what I did. What mattered was how I made them feel.
It took me a while to realize that what they wanted was to feel like a human being. They wanted to feel like someone worthy of compassion and understanding and patience.
“You will encounter victims who are helpless to change their lives. You will encounter offenders who may raise the hairs on the back of your neck. But you must find a way to make your clients feel worthy.” —Dr. D. Scharie Tavcer
I have been teaching at Mount Royal University in the Criminal Justice Degree Program for 15 years now. I love it. I feel privileged to teach and supervise students – future justice workers.
Among all of the content that I teach, I also push one agenda: that my students put compassion and empathy in their toolboxes. I want my students to realize that each of us has a story – we know someone who struggles with addiction, sexual assault, mental illness, or is in an abusive relationship...or maybe it’s us. And how people treat us, how people make us feel makes a huge difference in the way we navigate in this world and deal with these traumas. Our clients are the same: how we make them feel will make a difference in how they recover and how they reintegrate back into society.
So I call you to action: The world needs you to show compassion and empathy to your clients. You will encounter victims who are helpless to change their lives. You will encounter offenders who may raise the hairs on the back of your neck. But regardless of all of that, you must find a way to do your job that includes making your clients feel worthy. The young and old, the victims or offenders – they will forget what you said. They probably will forget what you did. But they will never forget how you made them feel. Show kindness and compassion. Imagine the kind of world it would be if we treated everyone like they mattered.
Imagine how that would feel.
- Dr. D. Scharie Tavcer, Law Enforcement and Security, 1992
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