Sexual Citizens

A New Approach to Preventing Sexual Assault on College Campuses

Why do campus sexual assaults happen? What should be done to prevent them? In their new book, Sexual Citizens (W. W. Norton & Company, Jan. 14, 2020), Columbia professors Jennifer Hirsch and Shamus Khan attempt to address these questions and offer a fresh way of thinking about this seemingly intractable problem.

President Bollinger Interviews the Authors

Columbia President Lee C. Bollinger recently sat down with Hirsch, Professor of Sociomedical Sciences at the Mailman School of Public Health, and Khan, Professor of Sociology and Chair of the Department of Sociology, for a wide-ranging discussion about the book. President Bollinger has been a steadfast supporter of this work since its inception. 

The SHIFT Initiative

Photo of Claude Mellins, a woman with brown hair in a suit

Sexual Citizens draws on ethnographic research that Hirsch and Khan undertook as part of the Sexual Health Initiative to Foster Transformation (SHIFT), Columbia’s landmark study of sexual assault on its campuses. Hirsch co-directed SHIFT with clinical psychologist Claude Ann Mellins. Khan is one of the project’s co-investigators.

Conducted in the late summer of 2015 and January of 2017, Hirsch and Khan’s ethnographic research consisted of more than 150 interviews, each about two hours long. SHIFT team members spent time with students in dorms, on the bus to the athletic fields, in fraternity houses and in places of worship. SHIFT also included a large survey of more than 1,600 undergraduates’ histories, relationships, experiences with sex and assault, and interviewed nearly 500 students daily for 60 days. The project defined sexual assault as sexualized touching, attempted penetration, or completed penetration.

Sexual Citizens, which is written for both the broader public and a scholarly audience, examines the social contexts in which sexual assaults occur. In it, the authors explain how physical spaces, alcohol, peer groups, and cultural norms influence young people’s experiences and interpretations of both sex and sexual assault. Sexual Citizens develops new approaches to making these assaults a less common feature of college life, offering critical guidance for students, parents, school administrators, policymakers and the public.

Book Launch Event

Jennifer Hirsch and Shamus Khan spoke with Dr. Jennifer Ashton, ABC News' Chief Medical Correspondent, on January 21, at The Forum, to kick off their national book tour. 

Sexual Citizens in the News

News coverage of Sexual Citizens, as well as additional book tour dates and details are listed below. 


Publishers Weekly: "Sexual Citizens: A Landmark Study of Sex, Power, and Assault on Campus" 

Kirkus: "Sexual Citizens: A Landmark Study of Sex, Power, and Assault on Campus"

Science: "Inadequate sex education and socialization collide in college spaces that stymie consent"

Lithub: Lit Hub’s Most Anticipated Books of 2020: A Look Ahead at the Year in Reading

Esquire: The Best Books Coming Out This Winter to Solve Your New Year's Resolution to Read More

Media Coverage

A book excerpt. January 3, 2020. Teen Vogue. "Researchers Found What Consent Looks Like Isn't Always Straightforward on College Campuses."

Article by Jennifer Hirsch and Shamus Khan. January 13, 2020. Medium. "How College Dorm Rooms Facilitate Sexual Assault."

All of it with Alison Stewart. January 16, 2020. A Landmark Study of Sexual Assault on Campus.

ABC News coverage of Sexual Citizens Book Launch Event. January 21, 2020.  "Columbia University Hosts Discussion on Campus Sexual Assault Prevention." 

Ashley Fetters. January 25, 2020. Bad Hookup, or Sexual Assault? Sometimes the Friends Decide. The Atlantic.

All Things Considered, with interviewer Ailsa Chang, January 26, 2020. In ‘Sexual Citizens’, Students Open Up about Sex, Power and Assault on Campus.

Sepulveda, Isabel. January 26, 2020. “We Have Failed Them”: Building a World of Better Sexual Citizens. Bwog.

Lodhavia, Meghana. February 6, 2020. “Columbia Professors Discuss Campus Sexual Assault, Sexual Safety”. The Michigan Daily.

Radillo, Annie. February 19th, 2020. Yale Daily News. "Hirsch to present book on campus sexual assault." 

Auman-Bauer, Kristie. February 20, 2020. Penn State News. "Columbia University researchers to present talk based on sexual-assault research." 

Afternoon Live on KATU. February 20, 2020. Interview with Shamus Khan about "Sexual Citizens" 

Sheinerman, Marie-Rose. The Daily Princetonian. February 24, 2020. Q&A with Jennifer Hirsch ’88, medical anthropologist who studies campus culture

Interview with Steve Goldstein. KJZZ. February 26, 2020. Researchers Look at Sexual Assaults, Gender Roles, Consent at Universities.

Hayford, Ashley. Daily Collegian. March 3, 2020. Columbia Professors Discuss Sexual Assault, Education, in Lecture.

Okhuysen, Gabriela. The Lantern. March 3, 2020. ‘Sexual Citizens: a Landmark Study of Sex, Power and Assault on Campus’ Authors to Speak at Ohio State

All Sides with Ann Fisher, WOSU Public Radio. March 5, 2020. Sex and Power on College Campuses.

Get the Funk Out with Janeane Bernstein. March 9, 2020. Jennifer Hirsch, Ph.D. Professor and Deputy for Doctoral Studies, Department of Sociomedical Sciences, Mailman School of Public Health - Co-Director, Columbia Population Research Center and Shamus Khan, American sociologist and a professor at Columbia University, joined host Janeane Bernstein to talk about their book Sexual Citizens: A Landmark Study of Sex, Power, and Assault on Campus.

Article by Jennifer Hirsch and Shamus Khan. March 20, 2020. The Washington Post. "Preventing campus sexual assault isn’t just about sex. It’s also about race."

Deborah Yaffe. Princeton Alumni Weekly. April 8, 2020. Q&A: Jennifer S. Hirsch ’88 on Shifting the Conversation.

Greta Rainbow. Women’s Media Center/F Bomb. April 13, 2020. Landmark study interrogates the predictability of college campus sexual assault.

Columbia Magazine. "Raising Strong Sexual Citizens." Spring/Summer 2020. 

Article by Jennifer Hirsch and Shamus Khan. June 22, 2020. Inside Higher Ed. "Sex, Social Distancing and the Fall Semester." 

Article by Kate Cohen. August 29, 2021. The Washington Post. "Here’s why college guys commit sexual assaults they don’t realize are assaults."


January 10, 2020: A Conversation about Sex, Power, and Assault on College Campuses (Jennifer Hirsch and Shamus Khan, in conversation with Columbia University President Lee Bollinger)

January 23, 2020: Preventing Sexual Assault on Campus (Columbia University launch event for Sexual Citizens)

January 28, 2020: At Philadelphia Free Library with Shamus Khan and Dr. Jen Ashton

January 27, 2020: At WBUR CitySpace in Boston with Shamus Khan and Dr. Jen Ashton

Trinity School Podcast: A conversation with Jennifer Hirsch, class of ‘84

CalCASA PreventConnect Podcasts: A Conversation with Sexual Citizens Co-Authors

C-Span Book TV: Columbia University Professor Jennifer Hirsch reported on her study that looked at the social roots of sexual assault on college campuses

Department of Gender and Women’s Studies, UC Berkeley: Jennifer S. Hirsch on Sexual Citizens: Intersections of Power: Sexual Assault, Public Health, and the Making of Sexual Citizens

New Books Network Podcasts: Sexual Citizens: A Landmark Study of Sex, Power and Assault on Campus (J.S. Hirsch and S. Khan, in conversation with Krystina Millar)

Jennifer Hirsch, on the Dr. On Call podcast, with Dr. Jane Greer, on the Healthy Life Network

Sexual Citizens Book Tour Dates

The book tour transitioned to virtual events after March 5. The most up-to-date information can be found on the Sexual Citizens site.