An Interview with Dr. Ellen Chayet

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Dr. Chayet with her daughter.

Dr. Chayet is one of STAC’s favorite criminal justice professors! Read her interview below.

Thoma Staff: When did you start working at STAC, and what is the best part about your job?

Dr. Chayet: I began teaching full-time in 2005, but was an adjunct professor at STAC in the previous year. Teaching college and growing a criminal justice program has always been my dream job. The best part? That is easy–teaching, working with, learning from, and getting to know the students here, and knowing (hoping) that I might have some impact on their lives.


Thoma: What were your favorite and least favorite classes in college? 

Dr. C: My favorite (no surprise) was criminology. It was taught by a former Hell’s Angel gang member with a Ph.D., and it really ignited my passion for criminology and criminal justice (full disclosure: I started as a French major). I also loved all of my sociology courses, and for me, it was always about the instructor. Worst class? Unfortunately, it was speech. I was very shy in those days and petrified of speaking in public, and it was a tough class despite the best efforts of a wonderful professor.


Thoma: What is your favorite college memory? 

Dr. C: I attended a public, free university in New York City, and towards the end of the Vietnam War, we students, together with the faculty, managed to convince the administration that, as a public institution, the college should be opened for a dialogue with the community about the war. I still remember my parents and many others visiting campus and attending talks and special classes and feeling that, through community education, we were accomplishing something important in a positive way.


Thoma: What was your first job? 

Dr. C: I worked at a toy factory during college, which left an indelible impression on me about the struggles many people face to survive, never mind getting ahead in life. My first professional job was as a Research Associate at the Massachusetts Department of Correction, and this had a tremendous and continuing impact on the ultimate direction of my career.


Thoma: What app do you find yourself using most often? 

Dr. C: It’s a 4-way tie: On my phone, it’s my fit bit calculator (10,000 steps yet?) and news apps so I can keep current. On my I-pad, I use Candy Crush (my guilty pleasure) and Tune-in Radio to listen to Boston Baroque.


Thoma: Say you just sold your tech startup for 10 million dollars! What is the first thing you do with the money? 


Dr. C: You mean after I came out of hiding, right? $10 million buys a lot of good works, and high on my list would be donations to those causes and organizations about which I am passionate. Among these are programs that assist people reentering communities from prison, prison education, programs for children suffering from serious illness, and on the cultural side, support for classical ballet companies. Of course, I would also take care of my family, and if there is any money left over, I would probably (for my own pleasure) restore an authentic colonial home in New England.


Thoma: Out of all the classes you teach, which would you consider your favorite? 

Dr. C: I seriously love all of my classes, for a variety of reasons. But one of my most favorites is probably penology (the effectiveness of punishment). In this class, I challenge students to contest their thinking about our treatment of those who have violated the law; and to consider whether our policies mean that the U.S. can utilize punishment for life. I often find that students complete the course thinking more critically than at the beginning of the semester. I also take interested students to tour Sing Sing Prison, which, for many, is game-changing.


Thoma: If someone made a movie about your life, which actress would you pick to play you? 

Dr. C: This is a hard question, but I think it would be Helen Mirren, the British actress who played the complicated character of Detective Jane Tennison on the series Prime Suspect and took on many challenging and diverse stage and film roles in her life. She is awesome at what she does! I think it would be challenge to play me, and I have every confidence that she would rock it! I also admire her celebration of aging, particularly of women, who are often ignored by the movie industry once they stop looking young (whatever that means).


Thoma: Are there any hobbies that people do not know you have? 

Dr. C: I think everyone knows that I am a rabid Red Sox fan, and my husband and I see them play each year while on vacation, but probably fewer people know that I love classical ballet. I took classes and actually performed (if you can call it that) for several years as a party adult in the Rockland County Coupe Theatre Studio Nutcracker Ballet. I am a big fan of whale watches and easy hikes, vacations with my adult daughter, and cooking with my family. I also like to work out at the gym so I can indulge my other hobby, reading good novels while “virtuously” racking up the miles on the treadmill.


Thoma: Do you have any current movie, TV, or music obsessions you want to mention? 

Dr. C: I am addicted to the British science fiction program Doctor Who and lag about season behind in this series. I also love cooking shows and have been known to binge-watch the original Law and Order with my husband. Since I am obsessed with the Red Sox, it is must-see T.V. for me any time a game is on (otherwise, I follow the games on my I-pad). In film, I enjoy dark comedies (In Bruges, Fargo). My musical tastes run to the baroque, so I listen to Bach, Purcell, Vivaldi, Telemann, Handel, and others from that period.


Thoma: If you were a candy, what candy would you be?

Dr. C: Baci, which has dark chocolate that is smooth and sweet on the outside, yet with the surprise of the hard hazelnut on the inside. I like to think of myself as a blend of both hard and soft, someone with many more layers than might first appear to be the case.



Thoma: What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

Dr. C: My father always said to live each day to the fullest, and not to sweat the details. I know he was right. He lived to be 93 and lived through the Depression and fought in World War II. And while sometimes this advice is challenging to follow, I try to keep it in the forefront of my mind and heart each day.

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