by Karina Aguilar / Staff Reporter
Natasha Robinson is a criminal justice professor at Roosevelt University. Prior to her time at Roosevelt, she was a practicing criminal law attorney and continues to bring her experiences with her to the classroom.
Robinson explained that her desire to seek a career in criminal law stemmed partially from something called “law day” at her local church. It allowed children around her community to spend the day with legal professionals and see law in action.
She highlighted the importance of seeing physical representations of people that resembled her within the legal field when she was young, as she said that “you can’t be what you haven’t seen.”
After completing school at Chicago State University, Robinson was a public defender for 12 ½ years. Robinson left the public defender’s office to work for Chicago Public Schools and teach children about the law.
“What made me leave [the public defender’s office] was that I saw trends of my clients getting young but being charged with adult offenses more—after they made statements or confessions but could not explain to me what it meant to them legally,” explained Robinson. “So I said if I could leave the courtroom and go to the classroom, I could empower people with legal knowledge before it is too late.”
“Before having legal knowledge, you’re impoverished in a way— and I feel that it is my calling to reduce and completely eliminate those who are impoverished or who do not have access to that knowledge,” said Robinson.
After working for CPS for six years, Robinson said she found out she was pregnant and decided to move out of the city. She could not work with Chicago Public Schools anymore because teachers must live within the city limits, so that led to her beginning her journey at Roosevelt University in the fall of 2018.
Robinson said she wanted to be a professor for a while, but she did not think she was good enough for the job. It was not until she realized that she could just show students what practicing law is like in real life— and back up that knowledge with different theories—that she realized that she could do it. She said it was important to her to create strong connections with her students without feeling constricted or tied to a textbook.
“Professor Robinson is committed to building and sharing knowledge as a collaborative effort to create a more just world for all of us,” said Jeannine Love, associate professor of public administration and director of political science. “She is brilliant, creative, empathetic, and honest. These are the characteristics that allow for authentic connection, and that is something at which she excels.”
Robinson said she prides herself on being able to form interdependent relationships with her students where they are able to talk as equals instead of making her classroom hierarchical. She feels that it allows students to be comfortable sharing while also making them feel seen, heard and valued.
She also said she also appreciates the freedom and creativity she has as a professor since it allows her to help her students foster connections to the material she is teaching.
“If a person does not feel a connection to what they are learning, to me it is a waste of time. They will not talk about or share what they are learning,” said Robinson. “I feel that in my classes I need to be able to align the content with life circumstances and therein lies the sweet spot for someone to learn.”
In addition to helping students connect to the material she is teaching, Robinson said that she also prioritizes making her classroom a safe space to encourage participation.
“Students love her mock trials. I was able to participate in one as part of the jury,” said Dr. LaDonna Long, associate professor of criminal justice and chair of the Criminal Justice College for Professional Studies. “Students had to present the case as either a prosecutor, defense attorney or witness. This is an invaluable learning experience for students who wish to continue their education in law.”
“Professor Robinson is so honest in the way that she teaches and I love that about her,” explained Miranda Gomez, a sophomore psychology major. “She tells us the textbook definitions and then elaborates on how these situations would and have played out in a real life scenario, which gives me a deeper understanding of the material.”
Professor Robinson said that she encourages her students to take whatever knowledge they learn from her classes and pass it on to others. She also said she firmly believes that learning and education is all about sharing the wealth of knowledge.
“It is also about realizing that the experiences you already have are valuable to your learning, we just have to reorient what you already know,” said Robinson.
Robinson also emphasized how important it is to communicate with professors about what you are going through since there is still a pandemic. She explained how she and most of her colleagues want to help take the weight and pressure off of their students— but reminded students that their professors cannot read minds.
When Robinson is not in the classroom, she is also working on her online platform “Legaleaze, Please!”—a page dedicated to decoding and explaining cases in the news and TV in simple terms.
Robinson explained that legalese is a term that basically means there is a formal conversation between two or more legal professionals—which is naturally hierarchical because it seeks to disenfranchise and exclude others from their conversations— rather than empower them or explain things in a way others may understand.
“I believe we need to start to figure out how we can use legal language in a way that liberates—instead of oppressing—so that language can be used to talk to you instead of above you,” said Robinson.
“Legaleaze, Please!” is another way for Robinson to continue to distribute legal knowledge in an understandable way by discussing previous cases and answering any questions people may have in reference to those cases.
“[‘Legaleaze, Please!’] is a testament to her creativity and expertise, and to her commitment to sharing her knowledge in ways that make the world of criminal justice accessible to everyone,” said Love. “I have learned a lot from her episodes!”
Despite all of Robinson’s accomplishments, she explained that her biggest accomplishment yet is being a mother.
“My biggest accomplishment is being a mother because that was the accomplishment I didn’t see coming once I got to 40,” said Robinson.
“I don’t ever want my daughter to get the leftovers of me. I want her to get just as much energy and passion I give my student,” said Robinson. In order to be her mom and a professor I have to set boundaries and make sure that my weekends belong to her. She makes me a better person—I am her student and she is my teacher.”