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Understanding & Mitigating Racial Trauma During COVID-19
Understanding & Mitigating Racial Trauma During COVID-19
Jonathan Werner
Tuesday, November 10, 2020

While schools were closed for Election Day on Tuesday, Cape Elizabeth’s administrators, teachers, and specialists had the opportunity to participate in some important and timely professional development with facilitators Erica M. Johnson, MSW, LSW, and Leah Hough, M.Ed. The morning began with an in-depth session exploring the interrelationship of trauma, racial identity, and COVID-19.  The presentation helped raise our awareness of the significant impact this combination of factors has on all our students, and especially on our students of color.

In subsequent small group discussions, the faculty of each building examined specific ways that educators can help students navigate trauma.  In particular, we explored how we can help young people resist oppression by understanding and acknowledging the effects systemic racism has on their lives, both in and out of school. 

“Youth’s resilience and resistance to systemic oppression can be increased by creating an environment that acknowledges the role of systemic racism inside and outside of school[.]”  Moreover, “intergenerational poverty, current community unrest, and intentional targeting of young people of color by those in power” can intensify the detrimental impact of this systemic racism (Johnson and Hough).

An enormous part of the work ahead must focus on a combined effort to raise cultural awareness and to practice cultural competence.  As our facilitators explained, our students will gain the most benefit when faculty or staff members:

  • Seek to understand the sociopolitical and historical context of the student’s racial/ethnic background and pervasiveness of racism;

  • Continuously explore how power, privilege, and oppression impacts the student’s racial/ethnic background;

  • Continuously explore how our own identity consists of power, privilege, and oppression and influences power dynamics and trust in the student/teacher-staff relationship.

Going forward, we were encouraged to bear in mind questions such as those below as we approach the experiences of our students with a heightened awareness and appreciation.  Our students will benefit from our considering questions such as: 

  • What events have occurred in your life (or your family or community) that have been very stressful or traumatic?

  • In what ways have you, your family, or your community experienced direct, indirect, traditional, or ecosystemic stress or trauma?

  • What do you notice about the way this event (or these events) have impacted you (or your family or your community)?

  • How have you (or your family or your community) maintained your strengths, your culture, or your community in the face of these stressors? Are there internal, family, or community characteristics that have helped?

  • What about your racial/ethnic identity (or your family or your community) gives you a feeling of pride?

Thank you to both Leah and Erica for helping us grapple with this incredibly difficult issue.  Lead by our District- and building-level Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion committees, we look forward to additional upcoming opportunities to continue these vital discussions.