Professor Flores is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, with teaching responsibilities at the Mississauga campus. His areas of interest include studies of gender and crime, prison studies, alternative schools, ethnographic research methods, Latinx sociology and studies of race and ethnicity.
A Path Out of Poverty
U of T Mississauga professor Jerry Flores says caring teachers inspired him to seek better opportunities in life. Now, he wants to do the same for others
By Cynthia Macdonald
As a sociologist, Jerry Flores wonders incessantly about “turning points” – those moments, for example, when a marginalized young person manages to break free from systemic oppression and poverty.
Flores has known such moments himself. As a youth, he lived in a low-income Latino neighbourhood in suburban Los Angeles, where he did poorly in school. Now, he’s an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Toronto Mississauga, teaching others how the criminal justice system regularly ensnares poor, racialized teenagers and adults in a cycle of crime, surveillance and punishment that many find impossible to escape.
“Growing up, I had the feeling I just wasn’t wanted at school,” he remembers. “I started skipping class, doing all kinds of other stuff I shouldn’t have been doing. Eventually, I failed every single class in my first two years of high school.”
And yet, education, and caring educators, would ultimately prove to be Flores’s ticket out. The son of an autobody worker and hotel cleaner who had immigrated to escape Mexico’s collapsing economy in 1982, Flores initially found himself stuck in a crowded, under-resourced, very segregated public school where almost every student was working class and Latino or Black. The neighbourhood was heavily patrolled by police who would pull him over at gunpoint, “often for not doing much of anything.” He saw family members arrested and jailed. Unsurprisingly, he lost interest in school and dropped out.
Then came his first turning point. Flores registered in a supportive alternative school, the exact opposite of the one he had left. For the first time, teachers encouraged him to think about enrolling in university; within several years, he had graduated, earned three degrees, and was writing his first book.