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Norman White

Norman White, SLU criminologist

A criminologist who understood that the justice system didn’t work the same way for everyone, Norman White spent his career trying to help children avoid getting caught up in it.

Mr. White, an associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at St. Louis University, died Wednesday (Dec. 6, 2017) of a heart attack at his home in Belleville. He was 64.

“As a colleague his was a voice I could always count on as the social justice barometer in the room,” said Jonathan Smith, SLU’s vice president for diversity and community engagement.

Mr. White participated in the Ferguson protests and was one of the founders of Shut It Down: Addressing the School-to-Prison Pipeline, which was started in 2015 to train teachers and staff on issues of racial bias, inequality and childhood trauma. The goal of the program was to reduce suspensions in public schools by helping teachers understand and deal with behavioral issues before they escalated.

He also worked with student volunteers at SLU to develop the Overground Railroad for Literacy, which provided tutors to public schools.

“Norm was defined by caring,” said Jason Purnell, who leads the For the Sake of All project at Washington University. “He cared so much about the children in this community and trying to change both the conditions that they grow up in and the trajectories of their lives by calling on us to take greater responsibility for their futures.”

Mr. White and his wife, Elizabeth, who married last summer, were getting ready to perform in a production of “A Christmas Carol” when he collapsed. The couple met 10 years ago through the Community Gospel Choir of St. Louis.

“He was joining my theater family in this holiday tradition,” his wife said. “He cared about people and about the mission of our gospel choir, racial harmony and equity. He worked so hard. He believed in the power of children and was passionate about investing in children and in turn our futures.

“I think the greatest tribute is if we all just try to find some small way to carry on his work for him.”

Mr. White grew up in public housing in Brooklyn, N.Y., remained a devoted New York Yankees fan and also rooted passionately for the SLU Billikens.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in history at Marist College in New York, and master’s and doctoral degrees in criminology and criminal justice from the State University of New York at Albany.

From 1997 to 2003 he was an assistant professor of criminology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis before moving to work at SLU.

In addition to his wife, Mr. White is survived by his mother, Elizabeth White of Belleville; sons Patrick and Michael of New York; and a sister, Marvina White of California and brother, William Riley, of New York.

Visitation will be 4 to 8 p.m. Monday followed by a memorial service at 10 a.m. Tuesday at Valhalla-Gaerdner-Holten Funeral Home, 3412 Frank Scott Parkway West in Belleville.

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