Hamline News

Hamline Announces Minnesota’s First Undergraduate Forensic Psychology Concentration

Illustration of a woman holding a magnifying glass over a graphic of a brain.

Starting fall 2020, Hamline undergraduates can explore the psychology behind criminal behavior and the legal system.

While other Minnesota universities offer graduate forensic psychology programs, Hamline will be the first institution to offer a forensic psychology concentration to undergraduates. The 36-credit concentration is open to students majoring in criminal justice, psychology, or legal studies—and since many courses overlap with major requirements, students can gain these unique skills while staying on track to graduate.

Through the concentration, students can dig deep into topics like social psychology, the American legal system, theories of criminal behavior, and more. The program culminates in a senior seminar focusing specifically on forensic psychology, where students have the freedom to explore an individual area of interest.

“The criminal justice system involves so much psychology at every level, from policing to courts, to jails and prisons, and you see psychology throughout,” said Jillian Peterson, assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice at Hamline.

Since many students were already double-majoring in these interdisciplinary departments, the concentration was a way to formally bring them together and provide more opportunities for students, said Peterson.

Unlike Hamline’s forensic science minor and certificate, which cover the scientific processes used to analyze crime scenes, the forensic psychology concentration focuses on the mental health aspect of the field.

“If you ask anyone in the field—police officers, corrections workers, probation officers—what is the number one problem they’re facing, across the board, they’ll say it’s mental illness. It’s currently overwhelming the justice system,” said Peterson.

The criminal justice field is currently grappling with ideas of how police interact with communities and how incarcerated people can reenter the wider society, said Peterson. For students interested in becoming a police officer or working in prisons, they’ll enter the field with an increased awareness of how psychology and mental health impact their clients.

For those interested in the law, they can explore the psychology behind jury selection and decision making, valuable preparation for a career as a lawyer.

Students will also have opportunities for hands-on research in the criminal justice department. At any one time, Peterson oversees as many as 20 students working on her nationally recognized research database of mass shooters, along with other departmental research.

“We see a real demand for people who know how to navigate these multiple fields,” said Peterson. “There’s a lot that you can do in the criminal justice system by figuring out why people do what they do, and how to change that.”

Written by staff.