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Caitlin Elsaesser, Ph.D. - University of Connecticut. Storrs, CT, US

Caitlin Elsaesser, Ph.D.

Associate Professor | University of Connecticut


Dr. Elsaesser partners with communities to create health promotion efforts that are empowering, with a focus on youth violence prevention.


Dr. Caitlin Elsaesser is an Associate Professor at the University of Connecticut School of Social Work. She is a licensed clinical social worker and completed her MSW and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration. The overarching goal of Dr. Elsaesser’s work is to partner with youth and communities to create health promotion efforts that are empowering and accessible. Dr. Elsaesser’s work is guided by critical race and feminist theories. With an understanding that those with lived experience hold key expertise in health, her work draws on community-based participatory methodology. Her career as a researcher is built on a decade of direct experience working with adolescents and families in Chicago, first as a high school teacher and later as a social worker.

Caitlin is currently the Principal Investigator of a CDC-funded K01 Mentored Research Scientist Development Award. Working in partnership with Hartford violence prevention agencies as well as youth co-researchers, this project will design the core components of health supports for youth to navigate social media conflict implicated in offline violence. The work builds on Caitlin’s past community-partnered research focused on cyberbanging, an emerging form of youth violence occurring on social media, also implicated in other forms of youth violence. In partnership with a Hartford-based youth development agency, she developed a measure of cyberbanging, critical to understanding the connection between cyberbanging and youth violence, as well as to identifying mechanisms for intervention.

A mindfulness practitioner since 2014, one of Caitlin’s core interests is melding contemplative practice and social justice. Caitlin is currently a mindfulness teacher-in-training through the Teacher Training Program at iBme. Caitlin is the mother of two young children. Her perspective as a mother and mindfulness practitioner inform all parts of her work.

Areas of Expertise (7)

Technology and Interpersonal Violence

Youth Violence

Gun Violence Prevention

Research Methodology

Child and Adolescent Development

Social Work Practice and Trauma


Education (4)

University of Chicago: Ph.D., School of Social Service Administration

University of Chicago: MSW, Social Work

Dominican University: M.A., Teaching/Education

Carleton College: B.A., English

Accomplishments (1)

K01 - Mentored Research Scientist Development Award, National Center for Injury Prevention, Centers for Disease Control







loading image Students listen to a lecture by Professor Caitlin Elsaesser at the School of Social Work on April 26, 2018. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo) loading image


mHealth Webinar: The Role of Youth Participatory Action Research in Combatting Social Media Stress


Media Appearances (4)

Standing Against Despair: UConn Researchers Take On Gun Violence

Hartford Times  online


Buffalo, New York. Laguna Woods, California. Uvalde, Texas. In little more than a week, three more places have been added to a uniquely American geography of terror and grief. In this shadow landscape, all the familiar features of a normal town are present – schools, places of worship, grocery stores, offices – but are here transformed into killing fields and memorials to unimaginable loss. Each new addition to this grim map also brings a familiar ritual of public angst and political sloganeering. Politicians stand in front of television cameras and say the same things they said after the last massacre, while citizens take to social media and reuse the posts they’ve been sharing multiple times a year, for many years.

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Rosa DeLauro (opinion): We need more gun research, now

Connecticut Post  online


Caitlin Elsaesser at the University of Connecticut is currently working on a two-year research project studying ways to reduce firearm threats that are expressed through social media. I am proud that we were able to provide this vital funding and am eager to see the results of her research.

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Social Media: Teens, Violence and Section 230

The Sunday Show  online


Interviews with Caitlin Elsaesser, a clinical social worker and researcher at the University of Connecticut who studies the connections between youth violence and social media and Jeff Kosseff, a professor of cybersecurity law in the United States Naval Academy's Cyber Science Department and author of the book The Twenty-Six Words That Created the Internet- A history of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

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Groundbreaking UConn Study Will Examine Social Media As Trigger for Cyberbanging

CT By the Numbers  online


There hasn’t been any federal funded research into gun violence in this century. Until now. And a University of Connecticut researcher is among those to receive a share of the funding, authorized by Congress last year. It is the first funding into gun violence since 1996, according to published reports. University of Connecticut School of Social Work assistant professor Caitlin Elsaesser, Ph.D., LICSW, MAT has received a two-year $250,000 award from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to research how social media conflict contributes to youth firearm violence and develop a social media-based intervention to address this pressing issue, UConn Today reported.

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Articles (5)

To end gun violence we need to address poverty

CT Viewpoints

Caitlin Elsaesser and Jacquelyn Santiago Nazario


The Uvalde school massacre has brought a fresh wave of national grief at the human toll of gun violence in the United States. Parents of small children, looking forward to celebrating the end of the school year, are now planning funerals. Advocates are highlighting the need for gun safety laws, including bans under 21, background checks and protection orders. The current attention to the issue of gun violence is vital, as the toll of gun violence spans far beyond mass shootings. Most gun-related murders happen in cities like Hartford.

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How social media turns online arguments between teens into real-world violence

The Conversation


The deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol in January exposed the power of social media to influence real-world behavior and incite violence. But many adolescents, who spend more time on social media than all other age groups, have known this for years. “On social media, when you argue, something so small can turn into something so big so fast,” said Justin, a 17-year-old living in Hartford, Connecticut, during one of my research focus groups. (The participants’ names have been changed in this article to protect their identities.)

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Avoiding fights on social media: Strategies youth leverage to navigate conflict in a digital era

Journal of Community Psychology

2021 Aims Emerging qualitative work documents that social media conflict sometimes results in violence in impoverished urban neighborhoods. Not all experiences of social media conflict lead to violence, however, and youth ostensibly use a variety of techniques to avoid violent outcomes. Little research has explored the daily violence prevention strategies youth use on social media, an important gap given the omnipresence of social media in youth culture. This paper examines youth strategies and factors that avoid violence resulting from social media conflict.

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Small becomes big, fast: Adolescent perceptions of how social media features escalate online conflict to offline violence

Children and Youth Services Review

2021 While youth violence is a longstanding public health problem, social media has changed how youth experience conflict. Qualitative work documents that threats are now being expressed online and escalate to offline violence, in a phenomenon termed internet banging. The goal of the present study was to examine adolescent perceptions of how social media features escalate online conflict to offline fights in a sample of adolescents living in disinvested neighborhoods in Hartford. To explore this topic, we foreground adolescent voices to document 1) what adolescents see as the sources of conflict online, and 2) how adolescents see social media features (e.g., photos, comments, livestream video) in escalating conflict online.

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Early child abuse and the effects of subsequent witnessed violence: results from a national high risk sample of adolescents

Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal

2021 Early child abuse likely changes the response to later witnessed community violence, but this interaction is not well understood. This study examined whether early physical, emotional and sexual abuse modify the relationship between adolescent witnessed community violence and functioning. Drawing on stress–diathesis theory, we examined the relevance of two competing models—the stress amplification and stress inoculation model—in a large national high risk sample (N = 874) in the United States. Consistent with stress amplification, results derived from multiple linear regressions suggested that early physical and sexual abuse strengthened the association of adolescent witnessed violence with social competency.

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