Political science emerita remembered by colleagues as an invaluable mentor

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Susan Opstad White Memory by Ellen Cohn, Class of 1940 Professor of Psychology and Justice Studies

When I first came to UNH, an academic friend in political science Wesley Skogan told me that I should meet Susan White. Little did I know that Susan would become an important mentor and collaborator for more than two decades. Susan and I had a mutual interest in understanding the factors that led people to break or follow rules.

Susan was a great mentor as I learned how to be a successful faculty member at UNH. She introduced me to the Law and Society Association meetings, which I continue to attend with my students.

Research Mentoring

In my first year at UNH, Susan wanted to understand what were the predictors of why students break rules. She brought together a research group of Murray Straus (sociology, Family Research Lab) and Stuart Palmer (sociology) and me to create a survey for incoming first-year students about their rule-breaking behavior the 6 months before they came to UNH. We discovered that their behavior in high school had a strong effect on their rule-breaking at UNH.

Susan and I continued this research after reading about the recent legal socialization research conducted by Felice Levine and June Tapp. We were funded multiple times by the National Science Foundation Law and Social Sciences (now Law and Sciences) Program to investigate how moral and legal reasoning affected approval of rule-violating behavior, disapproval of rules against rule-violating behavior and rule-violating behavior.

"Professor White was the first female professor in the Political Science Department. She was instrumental in constructing the public law course offerings, which have been a very strong part of the department’s curriculum. When she retired in 2001 and, with her encouragement, I took over as the coordinator of the justice studies minor, which she had created. Later, I helped write the proposal for the undergraduate major in justice studies, which, as we now know, has been quite a success over the past two decades. None of this would have happened but for her dedication and forward thinking. On a personal level, she encouraged me to chart my own path in the Political Science Department, which included experimenting with different types of courses and learning about teaching by trial and error. I am forever grateful to her.”

—Susan Siggelakis, associate professor of political science

Our model has come to be known as the Integrated Cognitive Legal Socialization model. We published the book, "Legal Socialization: A study of norms and rules" in 1990 based on our experimental study of rule-breaking in four UNH residence halls funded by the National Science Foundation. This year, the Journal of Social Issues is publishing a special issue on the 50th Anniversary of Legal Socialization research.

Service Mentoring

In the 1980s, when a the tenured women faculty (including Susan) wanted to do a study to determine if women faculty were being paid systematically less than equally qualified male faculty, Susan asked Rebecca Warner and me (both untenured) to do the statistical analysis. When we did find that female faculty were paid $1800 less than comparable male faculty, the University compromised and agreed to add $500 to the salary of each female faculty for two years (total of $1000).

In 1985, Susan came up with the idea of creating a minor in justice studies. She wanted it to be broad enough to include students with a focus on criminology or law and society. She invited me to be part of the group of faculty who began the minor. The minor was a great success. In 2003 after Susan had retired, we started a dual major in justice studies and a one-year master’s in justice studies. Recently, we started a minor in forensics in addition to the minor in justice studies.

In 1988, Susan came up with the idea of a faculty group doing a study on unwanted sexual experiences after the alleged Stoke Hall rape. She asked Sally Ward (sociology), Kirk Williams (sociology), and me to work together on a survey that we could administer to a sample of UNH female undergraduates. The President’s Office funded the survey and continue to fund it to the present. The survey was expanded to male undergraduates in 2000 after Susan retired. In 2006, the survey was administered to both male and female undergraduates in 2006. In 2012, the survey was expanded to include stalking and domestic violence. Hopefully the survey will be administered in 2022 after the pandemic.

Susan was very involved in the campus conduct system, acting as a hearing officer. Every year, she would conduct a mock trial with local prosecutors and defense attorneys participating. Many students and faculty would attend the mock trial.

Susan was an important influence on my professional development and the development of UNH.  

Susan White Biography

Susan Opstad White was born on February 24, 1936 and died on November 17, 2020. She received her B.A. with honors in philosophy from Bryn Mawr College in 1958. She received her M.A and Ph.D. in political science with a minor in philosophy in 1966 and 1970 respectively from the University of Minnesota. She received a National Science Foundation Summer Fellowship in 1966. She had a fellowship from the American Association of University Women from 1968-1969. She was a student editor of the Law and Society Review from 1968-1969. She came to UNH in fall 1969 as an assistant professor in political science. She received Faculty Summer Fellowships in 1974 and 1986. She was a study director at the National Academy of Sciences from 1976-1978. She had grants from the National Science Foundation Law and Social Sciences Program (now Law and Sciences Program) from 1981-1983, 1986-1988 and 1993-1999. She served as a program director of the Law and Social Sciences Program from approximately 1994-1996. She started the minor in justice studies in 1985 and was the first program coordinator. She was part of the Tenured Female Faculty Group that Analyzed Salary Data to Determine Gender Bias in Salaries. She was part of the UNH Panel Study on Unwanted Sexual Experiences starting in 1988. She was a hearing officer for the Conduct System. Susan leaves her partner Ellen Corcoran, her son Courtland White, and her granddaughter Zoe White.