By: Diane Summers
College of Public Service Lecturer, Judith Harris, explains that a unique benefit students receive in UHD’s Criminal Justice courses is that instructors allow students to see, touch, hear and experience the impact that crime has in our society and in our lives. This hands-on method of teaching is immersed throughout the college, and guest speakers bring an eye-opening perspective to students’ learning.
“You have to know how it feels to have suffered at the hands of others, or to hear from the actual offenders,” Judith explains. To help students understand this concept, CJ faculty bring in groups like Parents of Murdered Children, or high-profile criminals who have been acquitted, or top law enforcement officials who share first-hand the experiences they’ve encountered investigating infamous crimes.
This exposure extends to global learning, and CJ students have had opportunities in traveling abroad to study crime. “Bottom line,” Harris tells us, “crime is crime wherever you go; someone has broken the law. How do you deal with re-entry? How can we do it better?” Harris explains that students learn from other global systems, and they learn from us.
Harris herself is a product of UHD, saying, “I owe this school a lot.” She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at UHD, and her former professors are now her colleagues.
While a student at UHD, Harris worked for several years as a pretrial officer for the county, working weekends on a 10-hour night shift. Interacting with defendants who were charged with crimes gave Harris a crash-course in understanding people. “It was my training ground,” she said. “You’re never not fearful, but you learn to read people.”
Harris’ ability to read people led to a story in the Houston Chronicle about her befriending a downtown homeless woman. Harris said, “She used to harass me, and everyone, for cash,” and the homeless woman would belt out expletives if she didn’t receive it. After Harris learned the woman’s name was Jeannie, she confronted her. “Hello, Jeannie,” Harris said one day when meeting her on the street. She received a surprised look from the woman, and Harris made it clear to her that she didn’t appreciate the past harassment. They’ve maintained an interesting relationship since. The Houston Chronicle article on Harris and Jeannie can be found here.
“UHD groomed me to be who I am in the classroom,” Harris says, and she credits her colleagues and her Chair and Dean for her success. Now working towards her doctorate, her colleagues provide support when she questions herself. “The only reason I can do this is because they told me I can. This is an amazing group of people and I am so proud to be part of the College of Public Service, and the CJ group.”
Harris came to Texas in 1981 from the United Kingdom and describes herself as “very British.” Her dedication to serve others has passed on to her son, who is in the 10th Mountain, Army Assault Helicopter Battalion and now serves in Afghanistan, after having completed a tour in Iraq.