Eryn O’Neal: SHSU Professor Going ‘Viral’ on Twitter

Eryn O’Neal is an Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice and Criminology at Sam Houston State University. She has become very active on Twitter, supporting SHSU organizations and events dedicated to social justice issues.

O’Neal was born and raised in Los Angeles and began her college career at Citrus College, a community college in Glendora, California as a first-generation college student.

She changed her major from cosmetology to journalism, where she focused on crime reporting. Working her way up to Editor-in-Chief of her student newspaper, she took a few criminal justice classes to help her report on crime more accurately. Her advisor suggested she change her major again, this time to criminal justice.

O’Neal talked about her experience as a first-generation college student and how she navigated the new territory.

“As a first-generation college student, I relied a lot on faculty support and mentorship both in and outside the classroom,” O’Neal said. “My parents were not much help when it came to navigating student life or the college environment, so I had to turn to my professors a lot for guidance and advice.” 

Looking back at that guidance, O’Neal recognizes those who contributed most to her life, and it inspires her to do the same for others.

“When I look back on my college years, there are key faculty who helped me get to where I am today,” O’Neal said. “The advisor of the Citrus College Clarion Newspaper, Meg O’Neil, my undergraduate professor who encouraged me to pursue a graduate degree, Katharine Tellis, and my mentor in my Ph.D. program, Cassia Spohn. They gave me (and other students on campus) a lot of their time and I want to pay it forward.”

O’Neal’s goal in terms of interacting with students online is for them to know that they have faculty support. 

“Right now, especially during COVID, many students are feeling disconnected and isolated from campus life,” O’Neal said. “They miss the campus culture, they miss their friends and they miss interacting with faculty and staff in the ways they are used to. Interacting via Twitter, which is the only social media platform I use currently, helps bridge that gap.”

COVID-19 has thrown a wrench in plans both this semester and last. The pandemic has also changed the way professors interact with students and how they make sure students are doing what is required. O’Neal was also worried about the mental health of students regarding modern social issues. 

“But really it wasn’t COVID that radically changed my interactions, it was the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor that really changed my interactions with students. As an untenured faculty member, it’s always scary to be vocal about social justice issues because you are worried about job security.”

When Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor were murdered, O’Neal realized that she needed to be more visible in her support for Black Lives Matter and Say Her Name. 

“I realized that my work is not merely to share information in the classroom, but to share in the spiritual and intellectual growth of my students,” O’Neal said. “I started reading a lot of bell hooks’ work on teaching and started to put her teachings into practice. I wanted to follow in bell hooks’ footsteps and teach students to transgress beyond racial, sexual and gender boundaries.” 

 O’Neal specifically wants students at SHSU to know that she is an ally and accomplice in the fight for social and racial justice. 

“My email inbox is always open, and you can find me on Twitter @erynnicoleoneal,” O’Neal said. “I am here if students want faculty support for demonstrations, peaceful protests or whatever else. Black lives matter.”

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