Graduate student Chazlyn Miller examines the link between perceptions of and the social reactions to sexual assault

April 2, 2018

Miller’s presentation of her work earned first place at the university’s annual Three-Minute Thesis Competition.

Chazlyn Miller and Psychology Associate Professor Pamela McAuslan

As an undergraduate student attending school across the country, Chazlyn Miller read Psychology Associate Professor Pamela McAuslan’s research papers.

“I was really excited about the research being done here,” said Miller, who has an interest in clinical health. “Dr. McAuslan’s work is well known because she realizes a different approach needs to be taken to be effective in shedding light on the issue of sexual assault.”

Now a UM-Dearborn psychology graduate student, Miller does collaborative research work with McAuslan, her thesis adviser.

“Dr. McAuslin shared that she had this idea for a very large longitudinal study, but hadn’t had a chance to start it. I told her what I was hoping to learn and she allowed me to bring her idea to fruition in my own way. Working together, we came up with the idea to look at people’s reactions to sexual assault and examine influences on those reactions.”

Presenting the beginnings of her research, “Understanding Perceptions of and Reactions to Sexual Assault,” Miller recently placed first at the university’s Three-Minute Thesis (3MT) Competition.

“We came up with the idea before the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault reports and #MeToo movement,” Miller said after her 3MT presentation. “I’m interested to see if the movement and this activism are going to have an effect.” Miller said Psychology Associate Professor Michelle Leonard, her thesis co-chair, was instrumental in her preparation for her 3MT thesis presentation.

She said what’s novel about her research is that she’s examining the link between perceptions and attitudes and the social reactions of sexual assault. Typically, the focus is on the sexual assault survivor experience and related consequences.

In first part of the study, anonymous participants from across the nation self-reported measures regarding cultural values and individual beliefs—which including things like religiosity and political beliefs and ideas about gender roles. In the second part of the survey, she is giving the same people a hypothetical sexual assault scenario, followed by questions to gather reactions. For example: Do they believe the scenario is sexual assault?  What support would they offer, if any, to the victim? To whom do they attribute blame?

Miller is currently organizing the collected data from her sample size of 500 people.

With the social stigma surrounding it, Miller said sexual assault is an underreported crime. And that lack of disclosure leads to people not getting the help they may need. If the social stigma is better understood, Miller hopes it can be more effectively addressed.

“It is important to respect that people have different perspectives than you. But, if the research shows correlation, it is also important to understand the influence that culture may have on an individual’s beliefs,” Miller said. “Sexual assault has been talked about for awhile and there hasn’t been much change in behavior. If we see and understand how culture and social norms may affect perceptions, we may be able to identify opportunities for change.”

Miller’s work soon will gain attention at the regional level. She will present at the Midwestern Association of Graduate Schools 3MT Competition in Grand Rapids on April 6. Colleges and universities in the association, which represent 14 different states, will be in attendance.

Originally developed by The University of Queensland, the 3MT competition is meant to cultivate students’ academic, presentation and research communication skills. The campus event was sponsored by the Office of Graduate Studies and the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs.

Miller said it was difficult to edit her research to three minutes, but she liked the approach.

“Three Minute Thesis taught me the importance of breaking things down and making sure what I say is in a way that’s relatable for others,” she said. “If I have research that people don’t understand then that can negate the whole purpose of what I am doing.”

Miller is glad that she’ll have a large audience for her research. Her interest in clinical health stems from her aspiration to help others. And she feels—through her work with McAuslan and the research-based opportunities she’s had—she’s in the right place to get a foundation in how to best do that.

“Everything I want to do in my career—academic, clinical work, research—comes from wanting to be able to help people in some way. You can’t help someone unless you truly understand who they are as a person and what experiences they have had,” she said. “I am so lucky to be here doing this research with Dr. McAuslan. She has been instrumental in this field and I hope my research will continue to make an impact.”