Department Spotlight

Whitworth Sociology Professor Evaluates Teen Abstinence and Domestic Violence Prevention Programs, Provides 'Hands-On' Research Experience for Students

Whitworth Professor of Sociology Raja Tanas' evaluation of sexual abstinence programs in school districts throughout the country is not only a valuable tool for schools wanting to gauge the effectiveness of their programs; Tanas' work also allows him to provide hands-on sociological research and analysis for his students at Whitworth.

Tanas began serving as a statistical-evaluation consultant for schools implementing Teen-Aid sexual abstinence programs in1988 when Teen-Aid directors asked him to evaluate the effectiveness of their new Abstinence Education Programs in a number of schools across the country.

Tanas evaluated that program for five years and is currently conducting similar abstinence-education program evaluations for school districts in Mason, Ohio; Edinburg, Texas; and Spokane, Wash.

In 2002, Spokane School District 81 will implement a five-year Spokane Peer Abstinence Movement Program (SPAM), to which Tanas is lending his expert evaluation and analytic skills. The program consists of teams of high-school students who visit middle and junior-high schools to talk with eighth- and ninth-grade students about the importance of choosing to remain sexually abstinent until marriage.

The program has been used successfully in one District 81 school during the last five years, but no formal evaluation has been done to assess the short- or long-term impact of the program on student attitudes, values and behavioral intentions. Tanas has designed a research plan and an instrument to evaluate the SPAM program before, during and after its implementation.

"I'm excited about the project because SPAM is a unique program that is entirely student-led," Tanas says.

Tanas will administer pre- and post-test questionnaires to participating students to measure their attitudes and intentions about sexual intercourse and abstinence.

"We are looking for a control school in Spokane where we will conduct the pre-test and post-test surveys, but where the SPAM program is not implemented," Tanas says. "This helps us determine if the program really makes a difference."

By the end of the research project in 2007, Tanas' study is expected to include data from approximately 3,000 students detailing their attitudes about sexual abstinence.

Tanas' survey and analysis work with school districts and community groups gives Whitworth students the opportunity to experience 'live' research beyond the classroom. In 1996, five of Tanas' sociology students assisted him with a three-year Spokane County Domestic Violence Consortium intimate partner violence prevention project.

"Based on the 1996 domestic violence police reports, several variables of intimate partner violence, such as whether the perpetrator was male or female and what type of weapon was used, were measured," Tanas says. "In the following year, a treatment condition was introduced in the form of putting up billboards and running TV and radio spots about intimate partner violence. The same variables of intimate partner violence were measured again in 1998 to find out to what degree the treatment condition made a difference."

The five Whitworth students were hired to obtain copies of intimate partner violence reports from the Spokane Police Department and then code the qualitative data from the reports into numeric data for analysis.

"It was valuable for the students to see research in action and to understand the difficulties in doing research, such as coding and interpreting data, and encountering sampling problems and lack of access to certain records," Tanas says.

"It was a hands-on experience that was very worthwhile, because in the classroom students learn about these things in the abstract, but with the research they were able to get their hands 'dirty' with the data."

In addition to enlisting his students' assistance with survey projects, Tanas' research methods students provide critical review of the surveys and questionnaires he devises for his community consulting projects.

"The students give me excellent feedback and helpful suggestions for improving the surveys," Tanas says. "And it's beneficial for them to see how surveys are designed, which is an area they study in my research methods class."

Tanas, who joined the Whitworth Sociology Department in 1983, holds B.A. and M.A. degrees in sociology from the American University of Beirut, Lebanon, and a Ph.D. in sociology from Michigan State University.

Tanas' primary teaching responsibilities include introductory courses in sociology and anthropology; sociology of wealth and poverty; population studies; research methods; the computer and statistical analysis in sociology; and sociology of Middle Eastern society.

Tanas, who has conducted extensive research on Middle Eastern and Islamic issues, leads a Whitworth study tour of the Holy Land every other January, where he teaches a course titled "Peoples and Cultures of the Holy Land: Past and Present." The next study tour will take place in January 2004.

During Jan Term 2002 Tanas will team-teach a Core 350 study tour to Hawaii. The course will focus on the interplay between science, technology and culture. Under Tanas' and Visiting Professor of Physics Tom Hillman's direction, the class of 48 students will examine Hawaiian culture as a case study to explore the technological and scientific methods that ancient civilizations employed for their survival.

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