By Katharine Webster
Christopher Allen is a member of a very small club: men who research violence against women. He’s especially interested in how norms of masculinity contribute to gender-based violence and how to involve men in prevention. Allen, an assistant professor who was trained as a community psychologist, was recently awarded a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation “New Connections” grant to do research on female college students of color who are sexually assaulted. Allen is an associate of the university’s Center for Women and Work and also serves on the Student Affairs Sexual Violence Prevention Planning Committee.
Q: Tell me about some of your recent research.
A: I’m a member of a research initiative with faculty at other universities called Mobilizing Men for Violence Prevention. Our most recent study was an international survey of men who had recently attended violence prevention programming events. The survey asked about their experiences and attitudes concerning the events. We found there’s a lot of diversity in violence prevention programming for men — and that’s good, because we know that one-size-fits-all doesn’t work. But evaluation to find out what works or doesn’t work, and why, hasn’t caught up with all the programming, especially community mobilization strategies.
Q: A lot of your research focuses on the ways masculinity is related to men’s reluctance to engage in sexual violence prevention. What’s the relationship?
A: Research has consistently found that power and dominance over women are core tenets of traditional American conceptions of masculinity. So when we’re doing violence prevention programming with men, we tell them that if they call out other men on their behavior toward women, their own masculinity may be scrutinized — and they have to be willing to weather that scrutiny. It’s uncomfortable for men to put their masculinity on the line because even if they wanted to, it’s impossible to live up to the traditional American notion of masculinity 100 percent of the time.
Q: The research for which you won the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant looks at survivors of sexual assault. What’s your focus?
A: I’m analyzing part of a large survey of students at historically black colleges and universities to understand factors that influence women of color’s decisions about whether to disclose sexual assaults to college and university officials. Are women’s decisions influenced by systemic factors, like not having enough healthcare providers of color, or mostly personal reasons, such as feeling ashamed? I also want to look at the difference in health outcomes for women who disclose or don’t disclose.
Q: Are you doing any research on sexual assault prevention programs used at college campuses in the United States?
A: I’m collaborating on the Multi-College Bystander Efficacy Evaluation study, led by Prof. Ann Coker at the University of Kentucky, which involves collecting data about the different types of bystander intervention programming being used at several colleges and universities around the country. The goal is to aggregate the data and look at which bystander programs, if any, have an impact on rates of campus sexual assault.
Q: Do you ever feel lonely doing this work? You’re often the only man in the room — for example, in the Gender and Violence Interdisciplinary Research Group.
A: Unfortunately, I’m used to being the only male in the room when it comes to addressing gender-related issues. I feel disappointed about that, but hope that my work will result in more men working to end gender-based violence.