(May 14, 2018) – M. Candace Christensen is an assistant professor of social work in the College of Public Policy. She uses feminist research methods to explore gender-based violence prevention and response.
Specifically, her research explores sexual assault prevention and response on college campuses. She also uses arts-based research methods to raise awareness of gender-based violence.
Earlier this week, we sat down with professor Christensen to learn more about her work.
What’s exciting you the most these days?
I love using the arts in my research. Recently, I’ve been using photography to prevent campus sexual violence. I’ve been training UTSA students on how to use photographs to transform rape culture and create a campus culture of respect. This type of research is called photovoice.
Recently, student photographers helped us analyze photographs they composed, which means the participants were also researchers. We call this community-based participatory research (CBPR); the community members are the participants and trained to also be the researchers. Integrating CBPR with arts-based research methods has been very rewarding.
In 2017, my Master’s of Social Work (MSW) students recruited undergraduate students to take photographs that inspire dialogues about rape culture.
One student took a photograph of a woman wearing a short skirt, and on the woman’s thigh several words were handwritten. Below the knee someone handwrote “Old Fashioned”, above the knee “Proper”, and at the top of the thigh is the word “Whore”. This picture illustrates how we still blame victims for sexual assault. People often note what the victim was wearing and use that to explain why the violence occurred.
Another student composed a picture of a multi-colored, textured brick wall with a rusted, metal bracket inserted into the wall. The uneven bricks represented the emotional scars that a victim of sexual violence endures and the iron bracket represents the social, emotional and physical sources of support that a victim needs to heal from the violence.
What impact do you hope to see your research have?
I hope my research helps people to care about sexual violence, to see it as a problem worthy of their time and attention. I also hope that the people who participate in my research projects feel like they have developed self-awareness, knowledge of the problem, and will share their new understanding about sexual violence with others in the community.
The students who participated in my photovoice projects received a framed copy of two of their photographs. It’s my hope that these reminders help the photographers feel proud that they addressed sexual violence with expressive, meaningful images.
Last April, my MSW students curated an exhibit of 14 images (out of 50-plus photos taken by students) that was displayed in the UTSA Gallery 23. I hope that members of the UTSA community and visitors strolled through the exhibit and were moved by the powerful images the students created.
How has your personal journey influenced your work?
I have a background in the arts, and I am a survivor of sexual violence. During my first year in college, various men perpetrated multiple acts of sexual misconduct against me. I believe that most women have experienced at least one form of sexual violence.
In 1990, date rape was just barely entering the mainstream media, but it was definitely not discussed on college campuses. That has sensitized me to the problem and made me intent on addressing it through my research.
I have been involved with the arts since I was a little girl. I studied dance for decades, and I majored in drama and literature to earn my bachelor’s degree. My work represents my passion for creativity and the arts, as well as my aspiration to prevent sexual violence.
Tell us about your mentors.
I have had so many amazing mentors. They believed in my ability to accomplish whatever I chose to pursue. They conveyed this belief by learning about my aspirations, boosting my confidence when it was low, and connecting me with resources I needed to make progress toward my goals.
Second, my mentors challenged me in ways that felt supportive and resulted in my professional growth. Almost 20 years ago, I was accepted to the Harvard Divinity School after the minister of the church I was attending encouraged me to apply for the program. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the confidence to follow through on that opportunity. And my mentor, the minister, supported my decision to not take the offer.
But he told me that I needed to do more with my life. He said, “Candace, you are vivid and vital. Too vivid for the status quo.”
Those words stayed with me through my decision to pursue a Ph.D. While I didn’t take the Harvard opportunity, I believe that I have a career path that combines my passions, talents and serves a significant need.
What’s the biggest challenge researchers in your field are facing?
Community-based participatory research is time and resource intensive. Negotiating between the requirements for making tenure and developing the community relationships necessary for doing CBPR can be stressful.
Universities are increasingly moving toward a product-based reward system, where quantity versus quality is valued. CBPR researchers have to be mindful of both meeting the product-based expectations of their universities and building authentic relationships with the community.
Any advice for this generation of students?
Education is an excellent investment. Education will enhance your life in ways that you cannot predict at this point in your life. Trust that what you learn will enrich your career, your relationships and your community.
Learn more about Candace Christensen.
Learn more about the UTSA Department of Social Work.
Explore the UTSA College of Public Policy.
In honor of UTSA's 50th Anniversary in 2019, the university is hosting Roadrunner Days Spring Edition - two weeks of semester-launching activities built around our deeply held values of student success, student involvement, community service and fun!Various locations, Main and Downtown Campuses
All UTSA students, faculty, staff, alums & families are invited to march as a unified community. Register here: bit.ly/2TYbHbR. Shuttles will be provided from the Main and Downtown Campuses.Martin Luther King, Jr. Academy, 3501 MLK Dr., San Antonio
UTSA's John Nix invites the community to sing "Amazing Grace" and “We Shall Overcome” at 11 a.m. on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The intent of this nationwide effort is to honor Dr. King's legacy and to spread a sense of community in the United States.Locations throughout the United States
Opening Reception got exhibit featuring artists Miguel Aragon, Aaron Coleman, Sandra Fernandez, Annalise Gratovich, Marco Hernandez, Kristen Powers Nowlin, & Patricia Villalobos EcheverriaMain Art Gallery, Arts Building (ART 2.03.04), Main Campus
Tracy Cowden, Roland K. Blumberg Endowed Professor in Music and chair of the UTSA Department of Music launches the UTSA 50th Anniversary Scholars Speaker Series with Music as Medicine: The Power and Influence of Music on our Health.Radius Center, 106 Auditorium Cir. #120, San Antonio
UTSA African American Studies Program presents this series featuring Walter M. Kimbrough, president of Dillard University.Student Union Retama Auditorium (SU 2.02.02), Main Campus)
Join fellow Runners to walk for 10 minutes on the Main Campus. The event reminds us of the importance of exercise, diet and healthy habits in protecting our hearts.Outside the North Paseo Building, Main Campus
The annual event features authentic foods, music, dance, martial arts, shopping, games and entertainment from China, to the Indian Sub-continent, and the island nations of the Pacific. The Festival features two stages, a martial arts demonstration area, children’s hands on crafting area, anime activities, bonsai and ikebana displays, mahjong table and more.UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures, Hemisfair Campus
The University of Texas at San Antonio is dedicated to the advancement of knowledge through research and discovery, teaching and learning, community engagement and public service. As an institution of access and excellence, UTSA embraces multicultural traditions and serves as a center for intellectual and creative resources as well as a catalyst for socioeconomic development and the commercialization of intellectual property - for Texas, the nation and the world.
To be a premier public research university, providing access to educational excellence and preparing citizen leaders for the global environment.
We encourage an environment of dialogue and discovery, where integrity, excellence, inclusiveness, respect, collaboration and innovation are fostered.