On April 4th, the Community Action Gateway opened its classroom for a public workshop on “Trauma Informed Community Engagement,” led by Dr. Michelle L. Day. In her presentation, Day, who researches at the intersection of trauma-informed care and higher education (particularly writing pedagogy and community-engaged teaching and research), addressed key barriers and opportunities for implementing trauma-informed principles and practices in community spaces. Both because of the importance of this topic and that one of its central tenets is the importance of training everyone, Megan Faver Hartline, Director of Community Learning and Professor in the Gateway, chose to open up the class and invite anyone interested to attend.
Michelle began by asking participants why they were interested in learning more about connections between trauma-informed practice and community engagement. First to speak were some of the Community Action Gateway students and mentors who said that this information could help them be better partners in their current community projects, including: lobbying efforts to restore voting privileges to people on parole, researching sexual health education practices, and working with LGBTQ+ youth who are overrepresented in DCF care, unstable housing, and juvenile justice systems. Community partners who attended noted their work with survivors of sexual violence and domestic violence, the effects of poverty and racism, and more.
The driving question of the workshop was: “Why does trauma-informed care matter in community engagement?” Michelle, the students, and community partners in the room discussed how nearly everyone is a survivor of trauma, and some communities and individuals are disproportionately impacted. Michelle noted the importance of always assuming that survivors are present when planning and implementing community engagement work. We live in a world where: Adverse Childhood Experiences affect nearly two thirds of the population (CDC and Kaiser Parmanente); 20 people are victims of physical violence by an intimate partner every minute (CDC); and about 19% of men and 15% of women have experienced a natural disaster in the United States (SAMHSA). In community engagement work, including here at Trinity, we are so often working with people who have high levels of trauma on an individual and community level that we need to be using trauma-informed practices in our projects. Michelle helped us talked through ways that trauma-informed practices are crucial for ethical community engagement.
Michelle’s perspective is unique because, like many of us doing community engagement work, she does not have a clinical background but understands how important it is to acknowledge the pervasiveness and impact of trauma on individuals and communities. Much of the discussion was around ways to minimize retraumatizing practices and promote resilience, respect, connection and power-sharing in the communities we are living and working in.
Throughout the workshop and in conversation afterward, the perspectives of our community partners, many of whom use trauma-informed care in their daily work, brought so many different perspectives and insights on this topic that helped us all learn about new ways we can use these practices. We were thrilled to be joined by CHER Advisory Board member Linda Martinez, C.J. Boggs Bernier Sexual Assault Crisis Counselor of YWCA New Britain, Yadira Rivera from East Hartford CONNects, Laura O’Keefe of The Village for Families & Children, Shwetha Jayaraj who works with HPD Not Safe For Women, Joel Rivera from Hartford Working Cities Challenge, and Rebecca Lemanski of Middletown WORKS, and others.
Throughout the workshop, we talked about the parallels between trauma-informed care within community spaces and trauma-informed community engagement from higher education institutions, with many raising complex questions ranging from individual interactions to systemic problems.
Tiana Starks ‘21 (pictured to the left) asked, “What about the language we use? What words are you using when you’re out in the community and how to people want to be talked to/about?” For example, how do we use the words “victim” or “survivor” when talking about sexual violence? Thinking about how we as individuals can use language that promotes resiliency and lessens the possibility of retraumatization is important, both in community engagement settings and in our daily lives (as we remember how important it is to assume that survivors are always present!).
Community member Shwetha Jayaraj and Eleanor Faraguna ‘21 asked, “How do you educate institutions on trauma-informed teaching and engagement?” We talked about a range of institutions–Trinity College, Hartford Police Department, local social service organizations, the schools– and discussed how you can find allies in these places and start working to create change that incorporates trauma-informed practices on and off campus.
Overall, the workshop offered all of us space to learn, discuss, and think through how trauma is a part of the work we do and how we can make sure to incorporate trauma-informed care into our everyday lives. Thank you to Dr. Michelle L. Day for her time and thoughtfulness in offering this workshop! Below you can find resources on Trauma-Informed Principles (slide 19), Mental Health First Aid, Active Listening, Self-Care Planning, and Structured Ethical Reflection (slide 24).
Interested in partnering on a community action project with faculty and students at Trinity College? Or learning more about public events hosted by the Center for Hartford Engagement and Research? Contact Megan Hartline, Director of Community Learning, to learn more.