Faculty Friday: Candice Williams’ Heart for Justice and Openness to Uncharted Roads

Oftentimes, choosing a career path feels like deciding a destination, following a route based on a map’s depiction, and continuously moving in one direction. For Candice Williams, PhD, her career journey presented detours, ultimately leading her to a profession she never thought she would enter: the criminal justice field. Embarking on a path of research, professorship, and mentorship, led her to fulfill what she believes God called her to do. The core of Williams’ career stems from a heart for helping people thrive, implementing fair strategies and resources, and approaching every opportunity with the desire to learn more.

Born in Vallejo, Calif., Williams attended the University of California, Santa Barbara during her undergraduate years, double majoring in sociology and African American studies. She changed majors from psychology, which she found to be too science focused, to law and society, which the school closed before she could finish. Sociology piqued her interest because she was able to discover how society plays a role in people’s decisions.

While noticing her friends graduating and struggling to find jobs, Williams discussed her concerns with a mentor who guided her to pursue a master’s degree. She received her Masters in Sociology at California State University, Fullerton, creating a thesis observing colorism from various angles, a passion which led Williams to pursue a doctorate at Howard University. Her goal was to turn her thesis into a book, but through her role as a teacher’s assistant for a social work professor, Williams was introduced to the field of research in interpersonal violence on college campuses. Gathering information about the lesser known kinds of interpersonal violence became a new area of interest for Williams, and she has strived to increase awareness and resources available for those affected by abuse. Recently, Williams received a $400,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to fund programs addressing issues of interpersonal violence on Christian college campuses. Williams attributes much of her confidence and success through her doctoral program. “Howard is where I became who I am today. The research I did there led to what I’m doing now. I never thought I’d be a professor, but I’m excited because when you say ‘yes’ to God, He opens doors for you,” she said.

When reflecting on her journey, not only did the year-round sunshine bring Williams back to Southern California, but the ability to be her authentic self at Azusa Pacific University has made her happy since starting her career as a full-time professor in 2016. She is grateful to have the opportunity to openly discuss Christianity with her students.

“Especially in criminal justice, where people are going into law enforcement, court systems, and advocating for nonprofits,” Williams said, “I teach students that Christianity is not always about quoting scripture or wearing a cross around as a necklace, but often it’s how you treat somebody who’s a victim or offender. In my courses, we discuss what integrity looks like, and how God calls us to be honest, transparent, and give second chances.”

Faith integration to Williams includes allowing one’s light to shine through an aura of care and respect towards all.

Williams loves teaching APU students because of their willingness to learn, the curiosity that they bring to the table, and experiences that they add to classroom conversations. “Even with as much as I’ve taught my students, they are the ones who have made an impact on me,” Williams said. She often challenges students to develop an open mind to different points of view, exposing them to varying perspectives because her goal is to cultivate critical thinkers.

As chair of the Department of Criminal Justice, Williams encourages faculty to take students outside the classroom to witness real world experiences. She has gone with students to Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center to meet with judges and lawyers on trials. They have also attended the California Institution for Women to see the lived experiences and freedom of inmates, ultimately highlighting the humanity behind processes in criminal justice fields. Students have also taken tours of the Orange County Crime Lab, which provides services for the recognition, collection, preservation, and evaluation of physical evidence from crime scenes. Recently, the department hosted their annual conference entitled, “It’s On Us: Working Together to Address Criminal Justice Issues,” where faculty, law enforcement, court officials, advocates, scientists, practitioners, and mental health providers came together to discuss pertinent issues impacting society.

Williams is committed to teaching her students to do everything with justice in mind, while walking humbly. She serves as an excellent example of such traits. “The way I talk to the janitor is the same way I talk to the president of the university– with respect, gratitude, grace, understanding– and that’s what I want my students to walk away with,” she said. “I tell them not to abuse their badge as a criminal justice professional, but use it to the betterment of God’s kingdom.”

Because of the mentors throughout Williams’ life who have pushed her past her comfort zone, recognizing the value she did not see in herself, Williams has made an effort to do the same for her students. She has provided research opportunities where students study a topic, collect data, and present their results at national conferences for criminal justice professionals. Such opportunities help them build their confidence in order to reveal the window of opportunities available to them within their career fields. Williams understood that as a young professional, we tend to doubt ourselves on what we can accomplish. Williams reminds her students that, “Nobody is a lost hope as long as God is at the center.”

Williams advises students to be their authentic selves. During her first few years as a professor, she would play the role of what she believed an educator should be, including how she thought she was supposed to dress and talk, but doing so created a disconnect with her students. She has since formed better connections with students by embracing her God-given qualities. Her hope is for all students to diminish the need to mimic others.

“Just be you. We need people who are different in order to understand the populations in which they serve,” she said.

Williams is also a firm believer in remaining open-minded. “If you are close-minded to newness, you’re not going to make a difference. We have to be continuous learners, and we must always stay connected to God,” she said. Ultimately, Williams has learned that her education is not just a gift that she gets to keep to herself, but something that she can use to impact the lives of others. She hopes students at APU carry the mentality of using their degree to create positive change in the world, referencing Micah 6:8 as a guide—encouraging students to be merciful and humble in their work and life.

Williams described her journey as unpredictable. Her life has unfolded like an uncharted road, but through her openness to discovery and heart to serve others, the destinations Williams has stopped by have enhanced the route she’s taken. She continues to enjoy what God has in store for her, ultimately spreading love in every room she enters, shedding light on justice, and fostering kindness on every path she takes.