Healing the Collective Trauma of 2020 

The funny, light-hearted  2020 memes and hashtags could seem to some to represent an otherwise unrecognizable upside-down year. But in reality, many are experiencing collective racial trauma, augmented by a pandemic but born from a legacy of injustice that has been present for decades. Addressing trauma is core to the teachings in the KSOE Counseling program; our faculty are not only teaching our students these concepts but are creating real-world applications to begin to heal our communities. Trauma-informed care within our school communities is the focus of a very unique collaboration of KSOE scholars, who also happen to be long-time friends.

Dr. Cynthia Martinez, Assistant Professor, and recently tenured Associate Professor Dr. Rebecca Anguiano are developing creative programs to provide trauma-informed and restorative justice practices to K-12 school personnel.  

"We have to reimagine how we approach counseling in schools. In the words of Bettina Love, 'we must radically dream,' says Dr. Anguiano. Dr. Martinez continued the thought, "schools and educators have an incredible opportunity to reimagine a school system that is not driven by white supremacy and with a decolonized mindset."

Dr. Martinez and Dr. Anguiano met years ago, before coming to SMC-KSOE when they worked together at an elementary school in East Oakland, CA. Dr. Anguiano reflects on meeting Dr. Martinez, "we met, and instantly we knew we think alike, we can do this work together!"  According to Dr. Martinez, "it was inspiring to meet another Latina who totally understood this concept of theory of working in the community by asking the community what they want." Dr. Martinez applauds Dr. Anguiano as an incredible therapist, but also "someone who is able to understand systemic oppression and how it can work through testing."  The two formed a deep friendship through a shared passion for positively impacting the entire family's lives, not only the students themselves.

Dr. Anguiano and Dr. Martinez began their work together on the Behavioral Wellness Team, which focused on triage intervention services for students in their small school community. By approaching the whole student, by addressing what was going on socially and emotionally, and creating a home and school connection.  

The team's approach was rooted in the idea of slowing down to allow time for connection and understanding. "Many of our students were facing chronic trauma due to the impacts of poverty and social injustice", says Dr. Anguiano, "we needed to go beyond the assessment tests and ask what is going on in the child's home. What did the parent's experience in school look like? What sorts of feelings come up for them when the parents and students walk into the building? Slowing down in those moments of trauma is how we interrupt oppression and interrupt white supremacy culture". 

 "It's really easy to sit there and read theory," Dr. Martinez says, "but to see it in action and actually create change. That's a very different story.  We need to look at the context. If our students are from a historically marginalized community, how does this affect symptoms and their presentation, and is there trauma."  In the past, traditional theory implied that counselors should not share their personal experiences; instead, in this approach, the Wellness team took time to connect and highlight shared experiences to build trust and connection. "We shifted the conversation from 'what did you do' to 'what happened' in the past that may have caused behavior limiting trauma," says Dr. Martinez.   

Dr. Martinez and Dr. Anguiano bring these concepts to their SMC-KSOE students. These concepts were not taught in either of their graduate school programs. Instead, they pull from each of their own experiences to create a new approach to collective racial trauma. "We are teaching in the way we dreamt of being taught." 

Dr. Martinez says that we should consider the COVID-19 pandemic to be a natural disaster. With all-natural disasters, the people who suffer the most are the marginalized and people of color. The pandemic has exacerbated existing inequities. "Our Black and Brown communities are grappling with two horrific pandemics; COVID-19 and racism," says Dr. Anguiano, "through workshops, we are creating space to validate this trauma". 

This summer, the two doctors have hosted workshops for school administrators of color to validate their trauma and learn how to help their teams slow down. "We create intentional safe spaces so that folx can do the work to be in their bodies and learn to support others during difficult times, says R. Martinez. "It's relational, and it is the groundwork to continue to work to dismantle toxic white supremacy culture in their daily lives as women of color." 

In the workshops, participants are encouraged to name the trauma and validate it. "Trauma is a frightening experience that freezes you and makes you in your body unable to respond because there is some level of assault happening to you at that moment," says Dr. Anguiano. "It reflects in the body. Our body remembers and keeps the score. We have to look at complex trauma, which is multiple events that started in a person's life at a very young age."  

Slowing down allows people to realize what is happening in their bodies. "As people of color," Dr. Anguiano reflects, "oftentimes we are not allowed to be in our bodies. That is also trauma when we are not allowed to be who we are and who we are meant to be so we can survive in that space." We reconnect people to their bodies during the workshop." 

Dr. Martinez and Dr. Anguiano use music to help emphasize the connection. For example, they ask participants to listen to the "dah-dum, dah-dam" of the theme song to the movie Jaws and ask the participants to explain how they feel in their bodies. Responses include "hearts racing, shoulders raised".  "We then play mood-lifting song, like Sunflowers, by Post Malone. They feel relaxed and visualize themselves driving in a convertible in the sun", says Anguiano.   

Says Dr. Martinez of the exercise, "we ask participants to define 'What does it feel like in your body when you feel unseen? When you feel gaslighted? How does that feel in your body in the context of racism?"  

By tuning in to their own bodies, we can all practice self-care, which puts us in a position to lead and help others. "We discuss and lift up voices that have been marginalized," says Martinez. "We quote people who discuss that our cultures are still alive, and we honor that in our actions. We have radical hope because, with the pandemic, people can see that we cannot continue this way where resources are only the privileged.”

This is a featured story from the Fall 2020 KSOE Newsletter. To read more featured stories, click the button below.