Armstrong defends Columbia project as a “comprehensive self-study of undergraduate sexual culture”
PSC’s Elizabeth Armstrong comments on Columbia University’s controversial up-close ethnographic study of the social and sexual lives of its undergraduates. The project, called the Sexual Health Initiative to Foster Transformation, or SHIFT, is intended to identify the social factors that shape students’ sexual behavior and create the conditions under which sexual assault is likely to occur. Part of the study included ethnographic observations of students in places such as dorm parties, club meetings, sports events, and neighborhood bars. SHIFT has received some bad press and speculation about the ethical issues involved in observing such behavior. But Armstrong, who has conducted her own research of campus sexual assault, says that SHIFT’s ability to get closer to the behavior will provide better information on which to build campus policies and interventions.