SUSAN B. SORENSON is a professor of social policy, professor of health and societies, senior fellow in public health, director of the Evelyn Jacobs Ortner Center, and director of the Ph.D. program in social welfare at the University of Pennsylvania. She has a unique interdisciplinary background in epidemiology, sociology, and psychology. A primary focus of her research is the social context in which violence occurs, specifically, the norms that shape whether and how violence is tolerated. She has conducted research about homicide, suicide, sexual assault, child abuse, battering, and firearms from a public health perspective. Prior to her arrival at Penn in 2006, she spent more than 20 years at the UCLA School of Public Health. In addition to her academic work, Dr. Sorenson has served on the boards of directors and advisory boards of local community-based organizations, state government agencies, and university injury prevention centers. She co-founded the Violence Prevention Coalition of Greater Los Angeles, a broad coalition of agencies and individuals which continues to this day. Dr. Sorenson is an elected fellow of two divisions of the American Psychological Association: the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues and the Society for the Psychology of Women.Sorenson was a member of the National Academy of Science's Panel on Research on Violence Against Women, a consultant to President Clinton's National Advisory Council on Violence Against Women, a consultant to UNICEF's May 2000 report on Domestic Violence Against Women and Girls, a member of the advisory panel for the 2001 U.S. Surgeon General's Report on Youth Violence, and the author of a 2008 WHO report on health indicators of violence against children in low- and middle-income countries. Most recently, she was a member of the 2013 Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council’s Committee on Priorities for a Public Health Research Agenda to Reduce the Threat of Firearm-related Violence. Sorenson received her B.S. in sociology and psychology from Iowa State University, her M.S. in psychology from the Illinois Institute of Technology, Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Cincinnati, and was a post-doctoral scholar in psychiatric epidemiology at the School of Public Health at UCLA. Read More
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What is your current position and area of research?
I am a professor of Social Policy at the University of Pennsylvania, where I’m also a professor of Health & Societies and a Senior Fellow in Public Health. I conduct research on violence which, in the public health perspective that I use, is a wide range of intentional injuries – homicide, suicide, sexual assault, child abuse, and battering – and includes a focus on the mechanism of the injury, which, when it comes to homicide and suicide in the U.S., is largely firearms.
What led you to this field/area of research?
Public health has an optimism that I find refreshing. As a society, we invest heavily in intervening after the fact and I was curious about and remain committed to looking upstream instead. I was trained in clinical psychology and epidemiology, and violence is a field that can benefit from both an individual and a population perspective.
Where do you see your field progressing over the next 10 years?
Research about gun-related violence is being funded again after a hiatus and, in the next decade, public health may be able to address some vexing questions about gun violence. Public health will continue to focus on survival as the ultimate goal.
What, in your opinion, has been the greatest achievement in the fields of criminology and social sciences?
The greatest achievement in the social sciences may be to have shown that scientific methods (e.g., randomized field experiments) can be used to help understand social problems and social issues such as crime and violence. Moreover, social science has demonstrated that individuals may have biological or genetic predispositions but those tendencies aren’t necessarily translated into action unless the social context creates a facilitating environment. A wide range of social sciences – psychology, sociology, economics, political science, public policy, and more – is helping us understand and prevent violence that has been and is part of all societies.
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