Highfill defends dissertation on military domestic abuse policies

Thursday, May 16, 2024 • Jaelon Jackson :

By Jaelon Jackson
School of Social Work

Christine Highfill, PhD Graduate
Christine Highfill, Ph.D. Graduate


In her remarkable academic journey at The University of Texas at Arlington, Christine Highfill was supported by a dedicated team of mentors and collaborators. 

Her dissertation committee, chaired by Social Work Associate Professor Dr. Rachel Voth Schrag and Social Work Assistant Professor Dr. Donna Schuman, provided invaluable guidance and expertise throughout her research process. Other esteemed members of her committee included Social Work Assistant Professor Dr. Rebecca Mauldin, Social Work Associate Professor Dr. Ling Xu, and Sociology and Anthropology Professor Dr. Beth Anne Shelton.

Highfill's dissertation, under the guidance of her committee, examines the historical changes in laws regarding domestic violence, particularly within the military context. She investigates the current policies within the military and their real-world impact on individuals and families affected by domestic abuse. 

Drawing from her own experiences surviving domestic abuse within the military, Highfill's research is deeply personal and driven by a passion to make a difference in the lives of others facing similar challenges.

"Dr. Highfill's work highlights the importance of considering the unique needs of military families in domestic violence research. She is working to translate what we have learned in civilian survivorship research into the context of military connected families. 

“Her approach can serve as a crucial foundation to build and tailor effective interventions for military connected survivors of intimate partner violence in both civilian and military contexts," Voth Schrag said.

Her dedication to research is evident in her extensive publication record. Highfill has authored 11 articles and two reports, with one article recently accepted for publication and four others currently under review. 

Highfill has also registered six scoping review protocols and is contracted with Oxford Press to write the Encyclopedia of Social Work entry on scoping reviews—a methodology she has mastered to systematically analyze literature on diverse topics.

In addition to her academic pursuits, Highfill is a Licensed Master Social Worker actively engaged in community service. She serves as the data and evaluation coordinator for a local nonprofit agency, facilitating communication between the agency and a national program evaluation firm. 

Moreover, Highfill provides mental health therapy services to community members in North Texas, contributing to the well-being of those she serves.

Highfill reflects on her journey. 

She said Antwan Williams, the School of Social Work’s assistant director of communications, marketing and recruiting and an adjunct assistant professor, was the first person she talked to when looking at if social work was right for her before deciding to start the Master of Social Work program here at UTA. Now she has not only earned her MSW degree but also a Ph.D. in Social Work from UTA.

“You start as one person and end up changed, with the Ph.D. title it represents not just academic success but personal growth," Highfill said.

Schuman says she has worked with Highfill on several research projects focused on improving health and well-being outcomes in military-connected populations. 

“She is a dedicated and intrepid researcher whose passion and commitment to her work shine through in every project she tackles. 

“I look forward to the next chapter of her professional journey and the outstanding contributions she will make toward improving the lives of our military and veteran families," Schuman said.

Highfill's expertise in military-connected domestic violence and abuse has earned her national recognition from The Institute for Military and Veteran Family Wellness. Her commitment to improving policies and support systems for survivors underscores her dedication to creating positive change in both academic and real-world contexts.

In addition to earning her MSW and Ph.D. in Social Work degrees from UTA, Highfill received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Southwest Baptist University majoring in psychology, and a master's degree in human services counseling: military resilience cognate from Liberty University.

Dr. Highfill officially graduated on May 10, marking the culmination of her academic journey and the next step of what surely will be an impactful career.