Acknowledging the Unhealed Wounds of the Past
Through the Microscope is a reoccurring Helix column that poses an issue to our community of experts.
We asked Dr. Julie Atkins Waites to address how sectors such as higher education and biomedical research can help create a future in which we prioritize health and wellness and the strengthening of all communities to better meet the next generational challenge.
To create a priority is to say, “This is important; it matters; it is of value.” Values are never fully resolved but always in progress, constantly in revision. Values point us in the direction we desire to move.
Creating a future in which we prioritize health and wellness and the strengthening of all communities must fully acknowledge the unhealed wounds of the past and continued wounding in the present. Communities of marginalized people experience human injury as a result of traumatic events in their lived reality day in and day out. As a world, a country, an institution or an individual, we cannot heal what is not first acknowledged. We cannot talk about healing trauma without including social justice.
Traumatic events take many forms and impact both individuals and communities. For example, institutionalized trauma refers to the way that people are harmed by the larger systems that we all rely on, including our systems of education, criminal justice and health care. When communities are not served by these systems — and often are harmed by them — the result can be trauma. Social justice is one means of preventing trauma, such as institutionalized trauma.
Beginning a process to become trauma-informed allows RFU the lens by which to acknowledge the commonality of trauma amongst us. Social justice is both a process and a goal in service of addressing institutionalized trauma and strengthening all of our communities. The principles of trauma-informed systems — safety, trustworthiness, choice, collaboration and empowerment — are values that guide change on an institutional level.
Our next generational challenge may involve the development of empathy, our most human quality. Empathy involves our capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference. We need empathy as the antidote to trauma. Einstein said, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” We can construct the future through embodying values that heal rather than traumatize all members of our human family.
Julie Atkins Waites, PsyD, is director of Rosalind Franklin University Health Clinics’ Student Counseling Service, which offers direct clinical services, crisis intervention, educational outreach programming and consultation to the university. Under her leadership, student counseling providers have maintained services during the pandemic while increasing appointments by over 70%.
Opinions expressed in "Through the Microscope" columns are solely those of the authors and are not intended to represent those of Rosalind Franklin University.