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. 

"Preventing campus sexual assault isn’t just about sex. It’s also about race" -- op-ed column in The Washington Post by Jennifer Hirsch and Shamus Khan. 

"Columbia University researchers to present talk based on sexual-assault research" -- An article in Penn State News. 

"Hirsch to present book on campus sexual assault" -- An article in the Yale Daily News. 

"Columbia Professors Discuss Campus Sexual Assault, Sexual Safety" -- An article in The Michigan Daily.

"Jennifer Hirsch, Shamus Khan, and Dr. Jen Ashton: "Sexual Citizens" -- A conversation at WBUR CitySpace in Boston. 

"'We Have Failed Them:' Building a World of Better Sexual Citizens" -- An article in Bwog. 

"Sexual Citizens" -- An interview with KATU.

"In Conversation with Dr. Jennifer Ashton" -- Panel discussion at the Free Library of Philadelphia.

"Bad Hookup, or Sexual Assault? Sometimes the Friends Decide" -- An article in The Atlantic.

In 'Sexual Citizens,' Students Open Up About Sex, Power And Assault On Campus" -- Interview with Ailsa Chang for NPR's "All Things Considered." 

"Inadequate sex education and socialization collide in college spaces that stymie consent" -- A review in Science. 

"Columbia University Hosts Discussion on Campus Sexual Assault Prevention" -- ABC News Coverage of the panel discussion at the Forum.

"A Landmark Study of Sexual Assault on Campus" -- Interview with Alison Stewart for WNYC's "All of It."

"How College Dorm Rooms Facilitate Sexual Assault" -- An article by Hirsch and Khan, Medium.

"Researchers Found What Consent Looks Like Isn't Always Straightforward on College Campuses" -- A book excerpt in Teen Vogue.  

"Is There a Smarter Way to Think About Sexual Assault on Campus?" --  An article by Jia Tolentino, The New Yorker.

"A Lack of Sex Ed May Impact How Some College Students Practice Consent, Research Says" -- An article by Brittany McNamara, Teen Vogue. 

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

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

Sexual Citizens Book Tour Dates

  • Jan 21, New York, NY, Columbia University, “The Forum”

  • Jan 25, Washington, DC, Politics & Prose

  • Jan 27, Boston, MA, WBUR “CitySpace”

  • Jan 28, Philadelphia, PA, Philadelphia Free Library

  • Jan 31, Atherton, CA, Sacred Heart Preparatory (Jennifer Hirsch)

  • Feb 1, Palo Alto, CA, Books Inc. (Jennifer Hirsch)

  • Feb 3, Berkeley, CA, University of California, Berkeley (Jennifer Hirsch)

  • Feb 3, San Francisco, CA, Booksmith (Jennifer Hirsch)

  • Feb 5, Dearborn, MI, University of Michigan, Dearborn (Shamus Khan)

  • Feb 6, Ann Arbor, MI, University of Michigan, w/ Literati Bookstore

  • Feb 17, Eugene, OR, University of Oregon (Shamus Khan)

  • Feb 19, Corvallis, OR, Oregon State University (Shamus Khan)

  • Feb 20, New Haven, CT, Yale University (Jennifer Hirsch)

  • Feb 20, Portland, OR, Powell’s Bookstore (Shamus Khan)

  • Feb 24, Princeton, NJ, Princeton University (Jennifer Hirsch)

  • Feb 27, Omaha, NE, University of Nebraska Medical Center (Jennifer Hirsch)

  • March 2, State College, PA, Penn State University

  • March 5, Columbus, OH, Ohio State University

  • March 12, Albuquerque, NM, University of New Mexico

  • March 14, Tucson, AZ, Tucson Book Festival

  • March 30, Lawrence, Kansas, University of Kansas

  • April 3, West Point, NY, National Discussion on Collegiate Sexual Assault, United States Military Academy (Jennifer Hirsch)

  • April 6, Tampa, FL, University of South Florida (Jennifer Hirsch)

  • April 13, Marlborough, MA, Massachusetts Society for a World Free of Sexual Harm by Youth (Shamus Khan)

  • April 13, Atlanta, GA, Emory University (Jennifer Hirsch)

  • April 16, Toronto, ON, Canada, University of Toronto (Jennifer Hirsch)

  • April 18, Woodstock, The Golden Notebook Bookstore (Jennifer Hirsch)

  • April 20, Austin, TX, University of Texas, Austin

  • April 22, Arizona State University (Shamus Khan)

  • April 27, Storrs, CT, University of Connecticut

  • April 30, Seattle, WA, Seattle University and University of Washington (Jennifer Hirsch)

  • May 26, Chicago, IL, University of Chicago (Shamus Khan)

  • June 4, Washington, DC, Campus Prevention Network Summit (Jennifer Hirsch)

  • Sept 14, Manchester, UK, The University of Manchester

  • Sept 23-25, Lexington, KY, University of Kentucky, National Conference on Sexual Misconduct (Jennifer Hirsch)

  • Oct 7-10, Fairfax, VA, Fall for the Book Festival

  • Nov 18, Boston, Boston University School of Public Health