At the age of 16, Shekina Boling had her first experience with the criminal justice system. It was, as she describes it, unfavorable. She had been sexually assaulted, and the criminal justice process that followed her attack was lengthy and uncomfortable, to say the least.
After a drawn out and emotional trial, Boling’s attacker was ultimately found guilty. She is one of the lucky few—according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), only 3 out of 4 sexual assaults are ever reported. And for every 230 sexual assaults that are reported to the police, only 46 reports will lead to arrest and only 5 cases will lead to a federal conviction.
“I’m very thankful my assailant was found guilty,” recalls Boling. “My attorney had kept prepping me that it’s not very often these types of individuals are convicted. It shed light on something that I hadn’t realized took place.”
The experience was what first made Boling interested in a criminal justice career. And it’s what drove her to pursue her undergraduate degree in public administration and justice administration.
But as an undergraduate taking criminal justice classes, she discovered another side of the criminal justice system that she became even more passionate about—wrongful convictions.
“After learning these things, I found it was something I felt really strongly about,” describes Boling. “It was always something that saddened me, knowing that wrongful incarceration was a very common occurrence in the U.S. And there still haven’t been a lot of reform efforts to reduce these kinds of things.”
Upon graduating, she knew she wanted to get her master’s in criminal justice. The Waipahu native didn’t know what to expect enrolling in graduate school, particularly since she lands on the side of criminal justice reform.
She decided to enroll in Chaminade’s Master of Science in Criminal Justice Administration program partly because of Chaminade’s well-known and well-respected forensic science department. Ultimately, she’d like to work for the Innocence Project, helping to overturn wrongful convictions, and she believes having an understanding of forensic science plays a vital role in proving innocence.
“A lot of the time forensics is used as this infallible idea and it’s not questioned,” says Boling. “I believe the legal system has flaws and in order to propose effective solutions you need to understand the system to the fullest extent.”
Despite her initial nerves, she’s found a welcoming and friendly environment at Chaminade. She knows her calls for criminal justice reform are not always popular within the field, but that’s why she loves Chaminade’s program so much. The classes are small and intimate, and make for a really transparent environment to have lively and informed discussions.
“People are all very passionate and are willing to have discussions even if you have contradicting beliefs,” says Boling. “So far everyone has been very respectful, even if they have a different opinion.”
She likes the inclusivity that Chaminade promotes, and loves how her professors constantly present ethical dilemmas and questions that force her to reevaluate her position.
“Without a doubt, I would say it’s helping me solidify my beliefs on everything and helping me find my voice,” says Boling. “Every class provides a safe space for voicing your opinions and backing them up.”
Boling thinks it’s the perfect time to be pursuing a Master’s in criminal justice, with so much of the nation’s spotlight on criminal justice reform. And she’s really enjoying that her professors are not shying away from talking about current events.
“Not only is there such an abundance of information that keeps coming out every single day—we’re moving into such a divisive period of American history—but every day illustrates themes that we learn about in the program,” explains Boling. “It’s a way for students to really hone their beliefs and see where they really stand and what they’re for and what they’re against, and find the reasons why they believe what they do.”
This last year in the program has helped Boling solidify her own stance on things and have the substance to back up her own positions. She’s also really enjoyed having friends and classmates that she can text when she sees things in the news, and has enjoyed sharing her passions and interests with them.
Boling will graduate in March, and then wants to get her Ph.D. in forensic analysis. She’s looking at programs across the mainland for next fall, while keeping a close eye on the COVID-19 situation.
“Because of where we are right now with the pandemic, I’m a little hesitant to want to move,” admits Boling. Since Hawaii does not currently offer a Ph.D. in forensics, she’s also exploring local internship opportunities in case she chooses to stay local and wait out the pandemic.
Long term, she would like to become a State Policy Advocate with the Innocence Project and contribute to policy reform in Hawaii. To become eligible and competitive for the position, she needs at least three years of experience working with the legislative system. For now, if a Ph.D. program doesn’t work out for the fall, that’s where she plans to start.