Meet our students: Frankco Harris (DPhil Criminology)

Frankco Harris is a first-year DPhil Criminology student supervised by Professor Rachael Condry.  His research is jointly funded through the ESRC: Economic and Social Research Council Grand Union scholarship and the St Antony’s College Warden’s scholarship, and he is also a Black Academic Futures (BAF) Scholar.  His research will explore the socio-spatial dynamics of gang and youth violence in Bermuda. 

Before starting his DPhil at Oxford, Frankco graduated with a first-class LLB Law (with Criminology) degree from The University of East London, where he received the Dean of Law School Prize for Academic Achievement. He then graduated with distinction from The London School of Economics with an MSc in Criminal Justice Policy and was awarded the Titmuss Best Dissertation Prize (Criminal Justice Policy). 

My presence at Oxford is a testament to the idea that barriers can be overcome and dreams can be realised

Why did you choose Oxford?

My decision to study here is rooted in several key factors. Firstly, Oxford’s renowned reputation for academic excellence aligns with my aspirations for rigorous scholarly investigation. The university’s commitment to pushing the boundaries of knowledge is an environment in which I thrive. Secondly, Oxford offers unparalleled access to many resources, including world-class libraries, leading experts, and a diverse academic community. These resources are essential for the depth and breadth of research I intend to undertake. Also, the multidisciplinary environment at Oxford is invaluable. It allows me to transcend the boundaries of traditional disciplines and collaborate with experts and students from various fields. This interdisciplinarity enriches my understanding of complex social issues, particularly in criminology. The solutions to the most pressing social challenges often lie at the intersection of different academic disciplines, and Oxford provides the ideal setting for such cross-pollination of ideas. 

Your journey to Oxford has been far from straightforward, can you tell us a bit more about that?

My journey to Oxford has been anything but ordinary. It has been a path marked by numerous challenges, setbacks, and my unwavering resilience. In 2007, I arrived in the UK to pursue a law degree. I began with a pre-law course and then enrolled in a Law degree with a minor in Criminology. However, due to my struggles with mental health and addiction issues, I faced significant obstacles and decided to withdraw from my studies at the end of the first year.

When I stepped back from my legal studies, I explored another passion – creative arts, specifically music production and sound engineering. I spent several years DJing and producing music. Eventually, I embarked on a journey to overcome my addiction and regain my focus on academic and social justice pursuits. I returned to law school, essentially starting from scratch, and pursued my studies part-time while working multiple jobs to support myself. It was an incredibly challenging undertaking, but I persevered, and my hard work paid off as I graduated at the top of my class and received the Dean’s Award for Academic Achievement.

Being here at Oxford represents much more than a personal achievement; it serves as an opportunity to be a visible example to others who have faced similar adversity and come from challenging backgrounds. It demonstrates that despite facing formidable obstacles, one can succeed and excel in academia and beyond. My presence at Oxford is a testament to the idea that barriers can be overcome and dreams can be realised through relentless determination and resilience.

As a member of multiple marginalised communities, including being a first-generation university student, a gay individual, and a person of colour, I have firsthand experience of the unique barriers that can obstruct a person’s educational and professional aspirations. These personal experiences have further fueled my determination to succeed and have instilled in me a deep belief in the transformative power of education. 

How have your own childhood and life experiences motivated your choice of research and shaped your analytical approach?

Growing up in Bermuda, a small, tight-knit community, I was exposed to its nurturing aspects and complex social dynamics that can lead to criminogenic outcomes. This environment helped me understand the subtle but significant impact of social exclusion, violence, and economic disparities on both myself and those around me. My childhood was a journey through these multifaceted challenges, instilling in me a deep empathy for those caught in cycles of violence and poverty and sparking my interest in the broader social structures that drive these issues.

My research and career path have been profoundly influenced by my life experiences, marked by various hardships such as living in care, interactions with the criminal justice system, and other personal struggles. These experiences have shaped my perspective and approach to my work. After initially pursuing studies and a career in law, I changed to focus on criminal justice, social policy, and criminology. I desired to use my unique insights and experiences to shed light on critical social issues that underpin the criminal justice system and amplify the voices of marginalised communities, often misunderstood and unfairly stigmatised. I approach gang violence not as a sensational topic but as a crucial symptom of deeper problems within communities, underscoring its significance despite its often overlooked nature in broader discussions.

Representing my small island nation at the University of Oxford and on this global academic stage is an extraordinary honour and privilege. With its unique social and geographical characteristics, Bermuda provides a compelling backdrop for my research on gang and youth violence. Being able to bring the issues faced by my community onto an international platform for discussion and analysis is a responsibility I take seriously. I hope the insights gained from my research will benefit Bermuda and contribute to the broader discourse on socio-spatial dynamics of gang violence. 

The evolution of gang-related youth violence in Bermuda also presents an opportunity for me to contribute to the emergent field of island criminology. My thesis will critically examine the socio-spatial dynamics of gang and youth violence within Bermuda’s distinctive setting by unravelling the complex interplay of geography, society, and violence. The research will explore the role of “islandness” in shaping and constraining gang dynamics, reflecting and contributing to the global understanding of criminology in isolated contexts. Additionally, my study will be informed by ‘the politics of place and belonging,’ examining island communities’ distinctive social networks and normative structures that influence perceptions and experiences of gang-related activities. This approach recognises the unique socio-spatial fabric of Bermuda and how it impacts the evolution of youth violence and gang culture within the island’s context. 

One of the key challenges I will argue is the difficulty in defining terms like “gangs,” and “gang-associated” in small communities where people are so closely connected. In tight-knit communities like Bermuda, traditional definitions and categorisations may not accurately capture the complexity of relationships and affiliations contributing to gang dynamics. Furthermore, another critical challenge I will address is the issue of cross-national policy transfer. What has worked in larger urban areas may not necessarily apply in a small, isolated island context like Bermuda. Small islands’ unique social, cultural, and geographical factors can significantly influence the effectiveness of gang policies and youth violence strategies. Therefore, it is essential to consider the distinct characteristics of Bermuda and similar small island communities when developing and implementing anti-gang strategies. 

I’m also currently exploring incorporating critical race feminism into my research. This involves examining the multifaceted roles played by black women in the context of gangs – as mothers, sisters, aunts, cousins, girlfriends, and even as gang members themselves. Critical race feminism is a framework that emphasises the deliberate consideration of the intersections of race, class, and gender. By centring women of colour in the analysis of gang dynamics, it aims to expose and address the discriminatory and oppressive realities they face in life and in research. My interest in this perspective is, once again, deeply influenced by my lived experiences and addresses a gap in gang research.  

Tell us about your recent internship at the Government of Bermuda London Office and Consulate  

Working at the Government of Bermuda London Office and Consulate reaffirmed my dedication to return to Bermuda and apply my knowledge and abilities to positively impact my community. Although the prospect of joining global law firms or international entities like the UN is enticing, my deep commitment lies in contributing significantly to Bermuda. I am eager to leverage my knowledge and global experience to address local issues and support the development of my homeland. Additionally, I intend to continue my research and write on various topics of interest that transcend borders like rehabilitation, desistance from crime, and personal recovery. Having spent 18 years in the UK, it holds a special place in my heart as a second home. I plan to maintain my connections here, incorporating knowledge exchange into my future professional endeavours and research.

My engagement in the emergent field of island criminology is driven by a commitment to bring attention to the distinct challenges island communities face. Many of these islands, rich in history, are critical in tackling key global concerns such as climate change, biodiversity loss, and sustainable development. In my role at the Bermuda London office, I collaborated closely with the United Kingdom Overseas Territories Association (UKOTA). This organisation advocates for the interests of British Overseas Territories globally. Working with UKOTA, I helped address various issues pertinent to these territories. These included environmental sustainability, particularly the impact of climate change on fragile island ecosystems and the need for conservation efforts to protect unique biodiversity. We also tackled socio-economic challenges, such as ensuring sustainable development that balances economic growth with environmental protection. Another key area was enhancing healthcare and education systems to improve the quality of life for residents. Additionally, I contributed to discussions on political representation and self-governance, advocating for the rights and autonomy of the Overseas Territories. This involved navigating complex diplomatic relations and ensuring that the voices of these territories were heard in international forums. I also facilitated the presence of Bermuda in the UKOTA Mental Health Working Group. This working group promotes mental health awareness and well-being in the OTs. Through my work with UKOTA, I gained a comprehensive understanding of the multifaceted issues facing British Overseas Territories, further igniting my passion for addressing these challenges through my research and professional endeavours outside criminology.

How has Oxford impacted you so far?

Oxford has had a profound impact on me since the moment I arrived. One of the most inspiring aspects of being at Oxford is being surrounded by an incredibly diverse and passionate community of students. Interacting with fellow students and faculty members who are deeply committed to their fields of study is truly motivating. The intellectual energy and enthusiasm permeating the campus are infectious. The conversations have rarely been boring! 

Equally inspiring is the sense of history that envelops Oxford. Walking through the historic colleges, libraries, and streets, I am reminded of the countless generations of scholars who have contributed to the world’s body of knowledge from this very place. The change of scenery and pace of life, especially coming from the bustling city of London, has also been a welcome shift. The serene beauty of Oxford creates an environment that fosters reflection and contemplation. It’s a place where I have found solace amid the academic rigour.

“St Antony’s is a relaxed and progressive place. What’s particularly great is the visibility and support for queer and people of colour, which makes me feel comfortable and accepted.”

What is it like being part of the St Antony’s community? 

Being part of the St Antony’s community has been wonderful. I feel lucky to be here because it’s a relaxed and progressive place. What’s particularly great is the visibility and support for queer and people of colour, which makes me feel comfortable and accepted. It’s also fantastic to be surrounded by people from all over the world with different cultures. St. Antony’s is a great fit for me as a graduate college. It has the right vibe – a good mix of academic focus and a welcoming, friendly atmosphere. Overall, it’s been a fantastic experience being part of this community.

What are your plans for when you finish your DPhil?

Upon completing my DPhil, I am firmly committed to returning to Bermuda, my homeland, and serving my community as a civil servant. With 18 years (or 21, if I complete the DPhil as planned) in the UK, I am eager to return to contribute to improving Bermuda’s criminal justice system and related social issues. In addition to my civil service endeavours, I hope to establish my own charities focusing on rehabilitation and education. These organisations will address critical needs in our community, with a particular emphasis on supporting individuals seeking to desist from criminal behaviour and providing educational opportunities to underserved populations. I also intend to continue my research and writing, focusing on island criminology, rehabilitation, desistance, social policy, and criminal justice issues. I would also love to teach Criminology at Bermuda College. 

How significant is the impact of your scholarship funding on your academic journey?

I sincerely appreciate the ESRC Grand Union and St. Antony’s Warden scholarships that fully fund my DPhil. This support acknowledges my dedication and potential, allowing me to wholeheartedly commit to my academic journey. It represents an investment in my personal future and the contributions I aspire to make to academia and society. Before receiving this scholarship, I worked tirelessly, often holding multiple jobs concurrently, to make ends meet and finance my education. Before coming to Oxford, I worked seven days a week, juggling day and night shifts to support my academic aspirations. Receiving these scholarships was a game-changer for me. It allows me to fully concentrate on my studies without the constant financial worries and the need to work extensive hours. It’s not just about financial support; it’s about the peace of mind and the ability to dedicate myself wholeheartedly to my academic and research pursuits. This funding has allowed me to prioritise self-care and well-being, which is crucial for my success as a scholar.

Furthermore, I’d like to express my gratitude for the recognition and support I receive as a Black Academic Futures (BAF) Scholar despite not requiring additional financial assistance due to my full funding. I am privileged to benefit from the programs and assistance provided to Black Scholars at Oxford. This acknowledgement is a humbling experience, and I am genuinely thankful for the opportunities it brings.

Studying for a DPhil can be all-consuming – what do you do in your spare time to relax?

Studying for a DPhil can be pretty intense, but I wholeheartedly embrace the Italian concept of “Dolce far Niente” – the sweetness of doing nothing in my spare time. I relish those moments when I can disconnect from the demands of academic life. My phone goes on silent, and I indulge in the luxury of doing nothing or whatever I feel like in that moment, without the pressure of defining it. It’s a way to unwind and recharge, especially after working incredibly hard. I find solace and comfort in these moments of quiet solitude in my own space.

Apart from that, I also enjoy staying physically active. Thanks to St Antony’s, I can access the gym, which I use well. I find relaxation in working out, going for long runs, and practising meditation. Additionally, music is a constant source of joy in my life, and I often turn to it as a way to unwind and escape from the demands of academia. These activities help me relax and contribute to a balanced life.

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