Northeastern criminal justice student who studies mass murder, murder-suicide, and school shootings wins Outstanding Graduate Student Award for Research

Emma Fridel, a doctoral student in Criminal Justice, is the recipient of Northeastern’s Outstanding Graduate Student Award for Research. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Emma Fridel’s research has uncovered that school shootings have been declining since the 1990s. She has also discovered that people who live in economically disadvantaged areas are less likely to take their own life after they kill somebody they know. And her work has revealed that between 2015-2017, there was an uptick in romantic partners killing each other with a gun.

Working in tandem with professors James Alan Fox and Gregory Zimmerman, Fridel, a PhD student in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice, has produced a string of research papers that examines the topics of serial and mass murder, murder-suicide, and school shootings.

In their 2018 excerpt for a book titled “The Wiley Handbook on Violence in Education: Forms, Factors, and Preventions,” Fridel and Fox dismiss the characterization of mass school shootings as an epidemic, asserting that on average, mass murders occur between 20 and 30 times per year, and about one of those incidents on average takes place at a school.

Fridel has recommended increasing mental health resources for students as one measure to improve school safety, calling it a critical need that has been historically overlooked. She said the United States is facing a shortage of guidance counselors.

“You might have students in a very large school who are troubled, but who are basically flying under the radar because you have one guidance counselor for 400 students,” she said.

In a recent study analyzing gender differences in homicide trends and patterns, Fridel and Fox discovered that after nearly three decades of steadily declining murder rates, there was an increase between 2015 and 2017 of instances in which a person killed a romantic partner with a gun. The researchers couldn’t conclusively determine, however, whether the increase was an aberration or a sign of an upward trend.

In another recent study conducted with Zimmerman, Fridel tested the assumption that pervasive violence in disadvantaged areas causes people to be desensitized to violence, and looked into what kind of impact that has on suicide rates.

Fridel and Zimmerman discovered that in areas where violence is commonplace, people are less likely to feel guilt for killing a romantic partner, family member, or acquaintance. Because of this, there is less of a chance that a person who kills a romantic partner will then take his or her own life.

For her work, Northeastern has named Fridel the recipient of this year’s Outstanding Graduate Student Award for Research, an accolade conferred upon students who demonstrate an ability to conduct high-level research and contribute to the scholarly literature in their field.

Fridel will be one of several honorees celebrated by President Joseph E. Aoun at the Academic Honors Convocation on April 18. The annual ceremony recognizes students and faculty who have received prestigious awards for scholarship, research, or teaching over the past year.

“Winning this award is a great honor and I think is reflective of the immense support I’ve received during my time at Northeastern from the faculty in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice,” Fridel said in an interview after learning of her award. “I know that I would not be in the position I am today without the help of my mentors, Jamie Fox, Greg Zimmerman, and Anthony Braga.”

As her mentor and chair of her dissertation committee, Fox gave Fridel a glowing endorsement, saying that in the 40 years he has taught at Northeastern, he hasn’t met a more impressive student. Lauding her “high-quality research skills,” Fox described Fridel as the “most highly recruited doctoral prospect.”

“Ms. Fridel blends her strength in the substance of criminology with a analytic passion and quantitative skill,” Fox wrote. “She has been a quick learner of advanced statistics, has excellent writing skills, and is very detail-oriented.”

He added: “It has been, and continues to be a great pleasure to work with Emma Fridel and mentor her toward what is an outstanding career in the making.”

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