Fite-Freeman aims to grow CJ programSep 28, 2023
Helping others has always been foundational in Valerie Fite-Freeman’s inner self. In fact, she came to RCC to do just that – to be an academic advisor to students. But she was poised to grab the first opportunity that came along teach in the Criminal Justice Technologies program. In Fall 2023, she made that transition from staff to faculty.
Valerie hails from Lincolnton, a small town an hour west of Charlotte that she says “is 15 years ahead of Rockingham County.”
Growing up, she had several friends and acquaintances who were victimized by predators.
“That had an impact on me, because most of them never told a soul. They were unreported. I wanted to be a voice for people who had no voice,” she said.
She went to App State, where she majored in Criminal Justice and minored in Sociology. While there, she was involved in organizations, through which she interviewed offenders. She interned at the district attorney’s office, and was accepted into law school.
Valerie worked at a treatment alternative for safer communities, for people with substance abuse and mental health diagnoses who were on probation.
Rather than going to law school, she headed to the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan, where she earned her Master’s in Criminology and Deviant Behavior.
Valerie worked with the Innocence Project, and her thesis involved interviewing hundreds of women who had been victimized but did not report the crimes.
She worked for the state doing forensic interviews with alleged victims and alleged offenders, and she worked with child advocacy centers, law enforcement, attorneys, and others. She trained in mediation and assessed children with mental and psychological diagnoses. She learned to pick up on micro expressions and body language.
She started teaching at a community college part-time, was director of a children youth program. She then became full-time at the college, as a teacher, advisor, and success coach.
Then she learned of the opening at RCC for an advisor.
As she traveled to campus for her interview, she took in the scenery: “Cow, cow, college,” she said with a laugh.
“I could see [my daughter] Adaline and myself in this town and this area. It felt like home, and is a good place to raise my daughter. I told her, ‘Let’s go on an adventure,’” she said.
When she’s not working, Valerie is cheer coach and a softball and horseback riding team mom, and is very involved in her church with women and children.
Valerie attributes her heritage to being able to connect with some people she helps.
“My mom was Puerto Rican, so I identify with the Hispanic culture. I speak some Spanish,” she said. “When you’re able to talk to someone who understands your culture, you feel more comfortable.”
She said criminal justice professionals need to get a handle on personal biases.
“How can I combat them in order to do my job in a professional and executive way and be effective to make positive change?” she asked. “They need to understand that I’m here for their best interest.”
At the college where she used to work, she was involved in the College and Career Promise program, and still keeps up with the students who were in high school at that time.
A group shot of CCP students is just one item Valerie displays in her office. She has many personal photos, a Distinguished Image Educator award, and wall clings of the cast from the TV show “The Office.”
What is noticeably absent from her walls are her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Students have told her they feel intimidated when they come to her office to talk and spot them. Instead, students find out her credentials during the course of her instruction during the semester.
In her new faculty position, Valerie sees an opportunity to grow the Criminal Justice program.
“I bring a new perspective to criminal justice. People say they don’t want to be a police officer, but there are a lot of other agencies, like advocacy. I’m looking forward to working with students and connecting with agencies around here,” she said.
~By Gerri Hunt, Director of Public Information