Warning: Graphic Content
By Mike Emery
(Reprinted from the latest edition of UHD Magazine available on campus and online.)
Comic books were once unwelcomed in the classroom. They were considered distractions for students … counterproductive … and irrelevant to curriculum.
That was then.
Fast forward to 2018, and comic books—or graphic novels—have become a widely accepted art and literary form. They’ve influenced blockbuster films and hit television series, and at the University of Houston-Downtown, they are an essential part of criminal justice classes. Dr. Krista Gehring, associate professor in the Department of Criminal Justice & Social Work, authors the graphic novel series CrimComics. Working with artist (and fellow criminal justice colleague Michael R. Batista), Gehring has created this series, which uses illustrated stories to explain criminological theories. She uses CrimComics as a supplemental text for her criminology class.
The result, she said, has proven popular and effective with students.
“When you are exploring why people commit crimes, theories can seem abstract,” she said. “Students may not understand how these theories apply to everyday situations. Having illustrated examples of these theories helps students grasp these concepts. Plus, the students like reading them. I’ve had a few tell me that they have read them morethan once. That speaks volumes about how helpful these graphic novels are.”
Appreciation for CrimComics extends beyond UHD. The graphic novel series earned first place in the College Book Series at the 32nd Annual New York Book Show in October 2018.
“My collaborator Michael (Batista) and I were so excited just to be considered for this award,” Gehring said. “When we discovered we came in first place in the category, we were thrilled beyond belief! It’s such an honor for CrimComics to receive national recognition like this! We are very grateful.”
In addition to her graphic novels, Gehring developed other innovative ways to teach criminal justice topics. Last fall, she debuted the class “Popular Culture, Crime and Justice.” Taught at UHD Northwest, the class uses gamification by formatting the class like a video game. When students complete assignments and quizzes, they receive experience points, which allow students to “level up.” They ca
n earn badges for various accomplishments throughout the semester. Students also explore the depiction of crime in film, television, podcasts, video games and comic books.
“It’s important to create new ways of helping students understand and embrace curriculum,” Gehring said. “Engagement is important to the learning process. Different forms of media, such as comics or video games, are familiar to students, so why not use them to communicate class content?”
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.