By Brittany Alvarado
A group of ladies and gents will head out across the vast state of Texas with a view of rolling hills, massive plains, and bluebonnets. The road trip is long yet promising as they are out to explore Sam Houston University’s mysterious body farms.
Are these group members forensic scientists, crime scene investigators, or officers of the law? No, they are students enrolled in the criminal justice program at South Plains College and members of the Criminal Justice Club.
The club sponsor is John Barnes, an assistant professor of law enforcement. He says this club allows students to explore opportunities by visiting different locations and speaking with professionals in their respective fields.
“People think criminal justice is police officers and crime scenes,” he says. “Since I’ve been here, I have students who are probation officers, jailers, game wardens, and police officers.”
Two students who are looking forward to their spring trip to the SHU body farm are Marisela Jimenez, Criminal Justice Club president, and Aryana Torres, Criminal Justice Club vice president.
Torres says she intends to one day work in a crime lab with forensic teams. Meanwhile, Jimenez looks forward to working with canines and how the dogs analyze scents on crime scenes in labs.
“You kind of have an idea of law enforcement just being police officers,” Jimenez says. “We want them to have a broader spectrum on everything, so we give them those opportunities to branch out and make connections with different officers in their fields.”
The upcoming club members will take to the body farm is just one example of the hands-on experience students receive through field trips. An article appearing on new media platform Wide Open Country, describes the body farm as a “legitimate human decomposition research facility.” In other words, students will see how a variety of elements can affect the decomposition process of bodies to better identify how long a person would be exposed to the environment post-mortem.
This September, the SPC Criminal Justice Club attended the Texas Tech University Forensic Labs to speak with working professionals.
Last October, 53 members of the Criminal Justice Club toured the headquarters of the Texas Department of Public Safety in Lubbock.
As a professor, Barnes says he believes in allowing students to figure out where they fit in the puzzle regarding their field.
“I want them to talk to those people that are already in that profession,” Barnes says, “so they can say ‘OK, how do I fit?’”
The club members fund their trips through donations and fundraising by volunteering to help at SPC events. Past events have included the annual Halloween Carnival, SPC Blood Drive, and Canned Food Drive.
The club sells Law Enforcement Memorial shirts in the spring.
Club members volunteer every year to honor a fallen law enforcement officer. In 2021, Lubbock County SWAT Deputy Josh Bartlett lost his life in the line of fire while responding to a call in Levelland. As a way of honoring the fallen officer the club members clean up a two-mile section of the road where he died.
Students in the club also help the SPC Police Academy by role-playing as victims in mock crime scenes that take place at the end of the year for the academy’s final. Marisela Jimenez says she occasionally does the makeup for the crime scenes and skits.
In the end, members of this club have a unique opportunity to gain practical experience and guidance toward successful careers in the field. In order to join the club, a student has to be enrolled in the criminal justice program.
“If someone is coming into criminal justice you have to want to do it,” Barnes says. “You have to really want to do it.”
And if they do, this club can help them plan their career.