When Unabomber Ted Kaczynski was called to the stand, he told the jury that the psychological experiments he endured at the hands of Harvard professor Dr. Henry Murray were abusive, terrifying and a violation.
Murray’s defense team acknowledged that the experiments were disturbing but argued that they, in themselves, did not cultivate the mind of a murderer because Mr. Kaczynski had endured other trauma throughout his life before his notorious bombing campaign.
This case, trying Dr. Murray for being an accessory to murder, never actually happened, but Trent University students put on a mock trial in the fourth year History of Psychology (PSYC-4170H) class to learn more about the Unabomber and the history of Harvard’s troubling psychological experiments in the ’60s.
“Our in-class mock trials were a fun and engaging way to discuss the ethical issues of historical psychological experiments and the very real consequences of ethical transgressions,” says Dr. Karen Blair, the Psychology professor who organized the hands-on assignment.
Smaller class sizes support unique learning
The class tried two famous cases: the Unabomber and the case of psychologist Dr. John Money who, in the 1960s, encouraged gender reassignment to an infant who was born a biological male but suffered a botched circumcision. The infant, David Reimer, was raised as a girl and after transitioning back to living as a male in his teen years, ultimately committed suicide.
Thanks to Trent’s smaller class sizes, Professor Blair was able to divide the class into four appropriately sized teams – a prosecution and defense team for each case. Prof. Blair provided no lectures or handouts detailing each case, giving the students only the names of the people involved and the mock charge laid against each psychologist.
Teams then worked cooperatively to do extensive research and come up with a legal defense for their clients. Each student took on different roles as lawyer, researcher, or witness. Students came well prepared, as they didn’t know what questions they’d be asked in cross-examination and had to think on their feet. A ‘jury’ of students decided the verdicts.
Student Rachel Kaunismaa, of Traill College, acted as Dr. Murray’s defense lawyer and said this was an unforgettable learning experience.
“This project provided me with an excellent opportunity to apply things I have learned not only in this class but in other psychology classes I have taken,” she adds.