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Brian D. Christens

Associate Professor, Department of Human and Organizational Development
Director of Graduate Studies, Department of Human and Organizational Development

Research: Brian Christens studies organizations’ efforts to change systems and benefit their communities. He conducts research into the mechanisms linking civic participation to individual and community well-being, and into how different organizational approaches to civic action can lead to different outcomes. He is especially interested in young people’s involvement and leadership in efforts to change systems, and the ways that these experiences relate to other aspects of human development.

His book Community Power and Empowerment (Oxford University Press, 2019) details this research on psychological and organizational processes within a framework for understanding and altering community power structures. Many of his other publications can be accessed through profiles on Google Scholar and ResearchGate. His research has been recognized by early career awards from the American Psychological Association, the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, and the Society for Community Research and Action.

Teaching: At Vanderbilt, Professor Christens teaches graduate courses on action research and community organizing, and teaches the capstone course for the undergraduate major in Human and Organizational Development. He advises graduate students in the Ph.D. program in Community Research and Action and the master’s program in Community Development Action. Prior to returning to Vanderbilt in 2017, he worked at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, teaching in the Ph.D. program in Civil Society and Community Research and the undergraduate major in Community and Nonprofit Leadership.

Service: In 2019, Professor Christens began as Editor of Contemporary Social Issues, the book series of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI), published by Cambridge University Press. Christens is also an Associate Editor of the American Journal of Community Psychology. He is a member of the editorial boards of Adolescent Research ReviewCommunity Development, the Journal of Community Psychology, the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, and Youth & Society. He has chaired the Council of Education for the Society for Community Research and Action (2015-16) and the Clara Mayo grants selection committee for SPSSI (2014).

Community Engagement: Through action research partnerships, Christens has worked with groups seeking to improve neighborhoods and public schools, and with initiatives to change policies and systems that lead to social problems and disparities. He has collaborated with and studied community and youth organizing initiatives in many parts of the U.S. Locally, he is working with colleagues and students in the Department of Human and Organizational Development on several projects. For instance, he is working with the Tennessee Department of Health to support and study coalitions working on substance abuse prevention, and with the Nashville Civic Design Center and the Metro Nashville Public Schools on a study of the effects of a participatory urban design curriculum.