Sexual Health Initiative to Foster Transformation (SHIFT)

September 14, 2015

The Sexual Health Initiative to Foster Transformation (SHIFT) is a comprehensive research project that will examine the individual, interpersonal, and structural (cultural, community, and institutional) factors that shape sexual health and sexual misconduct for undergraduates at Columbia.

SHIFT includes 3 main components:

  • A year-long ethnographic study of undergraduate student life that will examine and analyze the range of student experiences related to socialization, sex, and sexual health, describing the range of practices and experiences that may be categorized as sexual misconduct. The ethnography will include in-depth student interviews, focus groups, interviews with key community and university stakeholders, and participant observations.
  • Quantitative work, including: 1) a daily diary study that will examine daily fluctuations and the co-occurrence of mood, stress, substance use, and sexual behavior among undergraduate students over 60 days, and 2) a larger one-time survey that will identify the individual, social, and structural risk and protective factors associated with sexual health and sexual misconduct at Columbia.
  • A policy translation component that involves ongoing dialogue with administrative stakeholders, faculty, and students to develop recommendations for cutting-edge, institutionally-appropriate, evidence-based strategies to reduce sexual violence and other forms of gender-based misconduct.

To date there has been a limited scientific basis for programs aimed at preventing misconduct, leaving universities with insufficient options for evidence-based programming. The research that does exist is largely focused on individual factors, rather than on the social and institutional factors that can play a significant role in supporting young people on campus. SHIFT, which is supported by the Office of the President, will fill critical gaps in the knowledge base necessary to build evidence-based prevention policies by looking more holistically at the undergraduate experience, examining individual, social, and structural factors that influence sexual health and misconduct, and using a public health approach to examine policies and practices.

SHIFT is directed by Jennifer S. Hirsch, Professor of Sociomedical Sciences at the Mailman School of Public Health, and Claude Ann Mellins, Professor of Medical Psychology in the Division of Gender, Sexuality, and Health in the Departments of Psychiatry and Sociomedical Sciences at the Columbia University Medical Center (CUMC). The research team includes faculty from across the University:

SHIFT is also benefits from advisors drawn from Columbia faculty and outside consultants, including:

SHIFT staff:

  • Stephanie Benson (Research Assistant)
  • Amelia Bucek (Program Director)
  • Abby DiCarlo (Ethnographer)
  • Jenissia Jeanty (Administrative Assistant)
  • Leigh Reardon (Program Director)

For more information or to inquire about participation, please contact

- See more at on the Mailman School of Public Health website


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