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Brian D. Christens

Associate Professor, Department of Human and Organizational Development

Research: Brian Christens studies organizations’ efforts to change inequitable systems and benefit their communities. His research provides insights 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 throughout the lifespan. His book Community Power and Empowerment (available January 2019, Oxford University Press) takes stock of research on these topics to date and provides organizations, community leaders, and scholars with frameworks for advances in this multidisciplinary field. Much of Professor Christens’ research is conducted in collaboration with grassroots community organizing groups, coalitions, and community-driven health promotion initiatives. For example, he has partnered with groups seeking to improve neighborhoods and public schools, and with initiatives to change policies and systems that lead to problems such as childhood obesity, youth violence, and mass incarceration. 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. Many of his research publications can be accessed through profiles on Google Scholar and ResearchGate.

Teaching: At Vanderbilt, Professor Christens teaches graduate courses on action research and community organizing, and teaches the capstone internship for the undergraduate major in Human and Organizational Development. He is currently working with departmental colleagues on a self-study of this undergraduate major. He advises graduate students in the Ph.D. program in Community Research and Action and the M.Ed. program in Community Development Action. Prior to returning to Vanderbilt in 2017, he worked at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, teaching in the undergraduate major in Community and Nonprofit Leadership and the Ph.D. program in Civil Society and Community Research.

Service: Professor Christens serves as an Associate Editor for the American Journal of Community Psychology, and is an editorial board member for Adolescent Research Review, Community Development, the Journal of Community Psychology, the Journal of Youth and Adolescence, and Youth & Society. He has chaired the Council of Education of the Society for Community Research and Action (Div. 27, APA, 2015-16) and the Clara Mayo grants selection committee for the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (Div. 9, APA, 2014).

Community Engagement: Professor Christens is currently working with several community and youth organizing initiatives and coalitions around the U.S. Locally, he is collaborating 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.

Representative Publications

Christens, B. D., Inzeo, P. T., Meinen, A., Hilgendorf, A. E., Berns, R., Korth, A., Pollard, E. C., McCall, A., Adams, A., & Stedman, J. (2016). Community-led collaborative action to prevent obesity. Wisconsin Medical Journal, 115(5), 259-263.

Christens, B. D., Winn, L. T., & Duke, A. M. (2016). Empowerment and critical consciousness: A conceptual cross-fertilization. Adolescent Research Review, 1(1), 15-27.

Christens, B. D., & Inzeo, P. T. (2015). Widening the view: Situating collective impact among frameworks for community-led change. Community Development, 46(4), 420-435.

Dolan, T., Christens, B. D., & Lin, C. S. (2015). Combining youth organizing and youth participatory action research to strengthen student voice in education reform. National Society for the Study of Education, 114(1), 153-170.

Christens, B. D., Collura, J. J., & Tahir, F. (2013). Critical hopefulness: A person-centered analysis of the intersection of cognitive and emotional empowerment. American Journal of Community Psychology, 52(1-2), 170-184.