Exterior of Nancy Nicholas Hall in the evening, with lamps and windows glowing.
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New Faculty Focus: Ben Fisher

Ben FisherA white man smiling, with short brown hair, wearing a blue and white checkered shirt with blurry school buses in the background., Associate Professor of Civil Society & Community Studies, joined the School of Human Ecology in fall 2022. This Q&A shares a glimpse into his experiences and research.

Hometown: I grew up a lot of places, but mostly in a little town called Roanoke, IN. It’s not really home anymore though, so I’m looking forward to Madison becoming my new hometown.

Educational/professional background: I earned my PhD in Community Research and Action from Vanderbilt University and worked as an Assistant Professor for the past six years at both the University of Louisville and Florida State University.

What is your field of research, and how did you get into it?

I study school criminalization, which refers to how elements of the criminal legal system have been imported into schools. This includes things like how we physically secure buildings, discipline students, or decide whether and how to use police in schools. These issues tend to be particularly salient for students who already experience marginalization in other ways, so a big focus of my research is on issues of equity, especially for students of color. In terms of how I got into it, I started thinking a lot about how contexts shape young people’s lives when I was working as a youth advocate and taking graduate courses in Community Psychology and Social Change from Penn State Harrisburg. Once I started my PhD, I found schools to be a particularly interesting context, and was fortunate to work on projects under Drs. Maury Nation and Emily Tanner-Smith who each shaped my research interests in meaningful ways.

What attracted you to UW–Madison?

I was most attracted to UW–Madison because of the department I’ll be working in—Civil Society and Community Studies. It’s an interdisciplinary space that shares common values around social justice and that sort of environment is a really good fit for me. I also am attracted to the mission and opportunities that are part of large public institutions of higher education like UW–Madison, ranging from incredible support for conducting research to engagement with the arts to a national championship volleyball team.

What was your first visit to campus like?

The first time I was ever on campus was before I had even applied for this job. I drove through in Summer 2020 on my way to see family, and came into a Madison that was struggling to deal with the first months of the pandemic as well as how to respond to the high-profile incidents of police killing Black people across the country. I was only on campus briefly, but I remember thinking about the tranquility of Lake Mendota, the political engagement of Madison’s citizens, and the eerie emptiness of the buildings.

The pandemic forced us all to reconsider many things we took for granted. Is there something you’ve learned that has helped you through these challenging times, personally or professionally?

Not really! It’s been hard and continues to be hard. I have a lot of empathy for folks who are trying to care for others in their homes while also being told that it’s time to go back to “normal”.

Do you feel your work relates in any way to the Wisconsin Idea?

Central to my work is finding ways to transform young people’s contexts, especially schools, into spaces that promote positive outcomes and limit negative ones. This focus on real-world, applied issues fits very nicely with the Wisconsin Idea.

What’s something interesting about your area of expertise you can share that will make us sound smarter at parties?

I’m not sure what parties you go to, and I’m also not sure whether this will make you sounds smarter, but police don’t prevent school shootings.

Hobbies/other interests: I like a variety of outdoor activities, board games, going to the movies, trying new bars and restaurants, and sitting around a fire with good friends.