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Courtesy of Elliot Berkman

A three-part trauma-informed leadership seminar will be offered to members of the University of Oregon Senate, department heads and administrators this spring. The campus leaders will learn how toxic stress affects the nervous system, how to be a trauma-informed, anti-racist leader and how to expand resiliency in the classroom, with debrief sessions after each lecture. 

Vice President for Equity and Inclusion Yvette Alex-Assensoh said that while the seminar will focus on racial trauma, it will address different types of intersectional trauma as well. 

“Toward that end, we are preparing participants to translate what they are learning in order to address other types of trauma including, but not limited to, gender, sexuality, disability and religiosity,” she said. 

Two years ago, Alex-Assensoh said she participated in a workshop that inspired her to do further research and reading about trauma and how to address it. She invited Wayne Scott and Tori Lopez, who are leaders in the Portland counseling community, to help design a trauma-informed seminar for the UO community. 

“The more I read, the more I realized that we needed to connect members of the UO community, beginning first with leaders, to this information,” Alex-Assensoh said. “This is especially so given the ubiquity of trauma in our society.”

UO Senate President Elliot Berkman said it is important to roll out this series now because the pandemic brought on multiple layers of trauma for everyone. 

“There's what we'll call collective trauma of the pandemic, because everybody was substantially affected by it. But it actually really affected some people more than others,” he said. “And speaking as a psychologist, we know a lot about what that does to people, how it influences your ability to focus, your ability to think clearly, your ability to regulate your emotions.”

Berkman said the UO Senate is putting together its own trauma-informed leadership workshop that will launch in Fall 2021. The workshop will be structured as an asynchronous course that faculty can pick up and modify to fit their own department. Right now, he said, the senate is going through readings, discussions and materials so the course will be ready for “prime time” in the fall. 

“I think there's a lot of talk about, say, trigger warnings and controversy over that. But part of it is really understanding why something might be triggering,” Berkman said. “Why would a lynching be really impactful on some people more than others? And why do you need to be  knowledgeable and sensitive to that?”

Berkman said he especially wants those who make decisions about core education requirements, admissions and graduate education to participate in the spring seminar so they can do their job in a trauma-informed mindset. Both Alex-Assensoh and Berkman said this type of training will help leaders become empathetic educators who are sensitive to students’ needs. 

“This isn't the typical leadership training that you get at a university or really anywhere. There's a lot of leadership training about how to be an effective manager,” Berkman said. “But this kind of goes to the next level, to really help understand what's happening for people.”