Dr. Krista Gehring’s Knack for Storytelling Keeps on Teaching
By Sheryl E. Taylor
Six years ago, Dr. Krista Gehring, Associate Professor of Criminal Justice, set out to teach criminology using her own brand of storytelling with CrimComics.
Guess what? She’s baaack with a new issue! The dynamic duo of Gehring and illustrator Michael R. Batista are back on the case. That’s right CrimComics’ fans, “CrimComics Issue 11: Labeling Theory” (Oxford University Press) is here! The new issue features a forward by criminologist John Braithwaite who is well-known in restorative justice.
Q: What’s the deets of this new issue, and why is it relevant today?
A: This issue addresses a topic that is quite different from the other criminological theories. Typically, criminological theories examine why individuals commit crime or why certain areas or sociological units have high crime rates. The "cause" of crime is typically focused on factors an individual possesses or encounters in his/her/their environment, or social factors that impact crime at the aggregate level. Labeling theory proposes that the cause of crime is the juvenile or criminal justice system, in that the labels used by these systems create stigmas that in turn lead to circumstances that continue criminal behavior.
For example, if an individual is arrested and convicted for committing a crime, he/she/they are then labeled a delinquent or criminal and that label impacts how others view him/her/them, access to resources, and other negative consequences of that label. For some, this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in that the label is accepted as part of an identity, and criminal behavior is continued to "live up" to the label. I think readers will like this issue as it intuitively makes sense, and they will likely relate to and understand the content.
This new issue also covers the topic of restorative justice, which is gaining traction in the juvenile and criminal justice system. It’s a process by which the individual who has committed a crime is not shamed in a way that alienates him/her/them from the community. It seeks to reduce the dehumanization that is often experienced by people who are navigating the juvenile and criminal justice system. It also examines the harm done by the delinquent or criminal act and determines what can be done to repair the damage. This also includes victims and survivors in the process, so the individual can understand the harm caused. The central focus is on the victim’s needs and the justice-involved individual’s responsibility to repair harm.
Q: What do you want students/readers/fans to learn?
A: I'd like readers to learn to think critically about how we treat justice-involved individuals. Is what we are currently doing reducing or adding to the crime problem? I’d also like them to take away the notion that words matter, and what we say to and about others can have serious consequences.
Q: Student response?
A: Students LOVE the comic books. They tell me that it helps them understand the content better and they enjoy reading them. Some of them are a bit hesitant about reading comics in a university course, but they soon learn that the material is scholarly and aligns with the topics they are learning. When asked if they would recommend the comics to other students, one student wrote: "I would definitely recommend these to other students because they made me interact with the material I was studying and gave me a deeper knowledge about the subject."
Q: Since its inception, the series has been extremely popular. Why?
A: I think we have come into a time when comic books and graphic novels have become more mainstream. There are movies, television shows, and other media that are based on stories and characters found in comic books, so students are more open to this format. Comic books have matured, and it's more than just superheroes and funny animals. I think CrimComics are popular because students recognize how they help them learn complex, abstract content. Theory is difficult to understand, but it is delivered in such a way in CrimComics that students "get it."
Q: Were you surprised by the response?
A: No, not from the students. I will say that some faculty members are hesitant to embrace this medium, but I think it's just because they don't understand it, or they may have a limited view of how scholarship and pedagogy “should” look in academia.
Q: Do you see this genre becoming more widely used? Why/Why not?
A: Definitely. Comic books and graphic novels are being more widely used. Reading a comic book requires "active reading;" that is, the reader must make sense of the words and the images together, and this will assist them in retaining the information better. Many more instructors are including comic books and graphic novels in their classrooms, and I think this will only increase. Instructors often complain that students aren't reading the assigned texts—if they assign comic books and graphic novels, I'm sure that problem would go away!
Q: In a previous UHD News story, you mentioned that a total of 13 issues are planned for the series.
A: That is correct! “Issue 12: Critical and Conflict Theories.” The last issue, Issue 13, will cover “Theories of Female Offending.” I've decided to include this issue as many of the more traditional theories ignore gender in their theorizing. They were generated by men who examined male samples, so many question how much they can explain female offending. I'm excited for this one. It's one of my areas of expertise!
Q: Any plans for expanding the series?
A: I think after this series is finished there may be opportunities to do comics for other disciplines (i.e., psychology or sociology). Mike (illustrator) and I kind of want to break off and do our own series—a dream would be to have a series with Image Comics!
Q: Plans for a new series? If so, a sneak peek into what it may be?
A: I'm a horror film fan, so it will likely be something in that genre. Maybe something with vampires.
The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) is the second-largest university in Houston and has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974. As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive, four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates approximately 14,000 students, boasts more than 66,000 alumni, and offers 45 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees, and 19 online programs within four colleges: Marilyn Davies College of Business, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Public Service, and College of Sciences and Technology. UHD has one of the lowest tuition rates in Texas.
U.S. News and World Report ranked UHD among the nation’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Applied Administration and Best Online Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice, as well as a Top Performer in Social Mobility. The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse ranked UHD one of the best colleges in the U.S. for its 2024 rankings, with notable distinctions: No. 1 for diversity (tied) and No. 3 for student experience. The University is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a Minority-Serving Institution, and a Military Friendly School. For more information on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit uhd.edu.