One of the best parts of fall — beyond even this year’s amazing leaves — is welcoming new members to our team.
This fall, I’m delighted to welcome Courtney McCrimmon, a first-year doctoral student in the Department of Psychology’s clinical program. Courtney joins returning graduate team members Maria-Ernestina Christl, Kim-Chi Pham, Adi Rosenthal, and Becky Suzuki.
As is our team’s tradition, we invite you to get to know Courtney through the following brief Q&A!
Q: Welcome to the TSS Group. Tell us about yourself, please!
Hey, I’m Courtney. I am a Washington, D.C. native, but excited to be in Denver to develop my professional career. I graduated from Hampton University (Psychology, BA) and Marymount University (Forensic & Legal Psychology, MA). For the last two years, I have worked with the National Science Foundation as a researcher focusing on culturally responsive evaluation and a case manager for an anti-trafficking non-profit supporting youth and adult survivors. I am a dissectologist and a proud member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated. I also enjoy traveling, visiting museums, listening to music, and spending time with my family and friends.
Q: As a first-year graduate student in the Clinical Psychology Program, what are your current research interests?
My research interests include sexual violence and trauma, human trafficking, sexual relationships, help-seeking behavior, and survivor-centered services. I’m interested in learning about these interests through the lens of culturally responsive practices for African Americans, trauma-informed services, intersectionality, and community engagement.
Q: What drew you to the TSS Group?
The values of the TSS Group are almost identical to the values of my research interests (i.e., community-engaged approaches guided by intersectional frames that recognize structural issues). I am also drawn to the group’s focus on mentorship and ethical research that addresses whose goals are prioritized, who is (and is not) involved, and the potential benefits and harms of said research.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish as a member of the TSS Group?
As a member of the TSS Group, I hope to accomplish the goal of being a culturally responsive, survivor-centered researcher and practitioner that focuses on amplifying the voices of minority populations. I am most excited to connect with my labmates, receive mentorship from Dr. DePrince, and conduct meaningful research that impacts the community.
Until recently, my career as an academic trauma psychologist focused on writing with other people — students, colleagues, community partners — to publish journal articles, book chapters, and edited volumes. I understand the pace and process of that kind of writing.
Trade book writing is different, though. It’s just you and your ideas most days. You write and write, and write some more. You start to wonder if you’re doing it right, and scroll through #writing tips on Twitter. You read books on writing books (check out Mary Pipher’s invaluable Writing to Change the World) and tape notes to your wall about narrative arcs.
If you’re fortunate, trusted colleagues, students, and friends read drafts along the way and give you candid feedback. Then you edit and edit. Next your editor gives you feedback and you edit some more. Even then, you find more to edit.
At some point the editing shifts to wordsmithing, and one evening the book seems nearly finished as the sun sets. By sunrise the next day, you’re certain it’s nowhere close to done. You wonder if you’re the only one who feels this way? You repeat the Twitter #writing tips check and confirm you are not the only one…and you keep editing.
Finally, a day arrives when you summon the will to say you’re finished and email the manuscript files to your publisher. Then you wait. Wait for copyedits to review. Wait for author query forms. Wait for the right time to promote the book.
Things started to change the other day, though, when I opened my email and got to see the book cover for the very first time. Suddenly I could more clearly imagine sharing the book and engaging with you to find our common cause: Ending violence against women together.
Perhaps no wonder, then, that I’m so excited to sharea sneak peek of the cover below. I hope you’ll join me in counting down to the April book release — just in time for Sexual Assault Awareness Month (#SAAM). Almost there!
When I was member of the Traumatic Stress Studies Group and a clinical psychology graduate student within the Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience specialization, I had the special opportunity to learn the foundational science that informs our understanding of children’s reactions to stress, adversity, and trauma exposure. In particular, I developed a knowledge base and clinical awareness of the mechanisms, processes, and contextual factors that underlie the vastly varied reactions that children may have to traumatic life experiences. At the time, I knew that this learning would inform my future clinical and research efforts; what I did not know was how this foundation would lead to opportunities for advocacy and social action.
Clinical experiences across my early career stages emphasized clinical evaluation and trauma-focused psychotherapy with immigrant children and families. Coupled with my own childhood experiences growing up alongside a largely immigrant farmworker community, my clinical activities deepened my engagement and commitment with the immigrant population, as I gained greater awareness of the current and historical traumas connected with the systemic oppression of peoples arriving at the US border primarily from Central and South American countries.
With knowledge of the short- and long- term consequences of child trauma exposure, I was deeply concerned and disturbed by the rise of harsh border policies surfacing in 2018 under the Trump administration, which included practices of forcibly separating children from their families at the border, as well as subsequent prolonged detention of unaccompanied children in restrictive, congregate care settings. As with many others, I wanted to get involved, but was unsure exactly how.
When I saw calls for health professionals to serve as volunteers in monitoring the conditions of care for children (including those separated from family) in US government custody, I was interested, but still early in my career, thought why me?, figuring there are many other seasoned mental health professionals who should be first in line for such an effort.
“I was interested, but, still early in my career, thought why me?
Upon further reflection, I realized that my past training had me well-prepared. Did I meet the criteria for involvement? Knowledge about trauma and trauma-informed care? Well, yes. Experience working with children? Sure. Knowledge of best practices in mental health service delivery? Nearly a decade of training in this. Speak Spanish? Yes. Furthermore, my reflection led to the realization and reminder that this opportunity aligned with my personal, professional, and social values. I had to throw my hat in the ring.
From Volunteering to Interdisciplinary Advocacy
I didn’t realize at the time that this first step in signing up to volunteer for a site visit at a shelter facility for immigrant children would open up a realm of new opportunities for service, advocacy, and career development. I joined attorneys, who under federal agreement, had unique access to care facilities and to the recently-arrived children being held in restrictive care by our government.
Applying my past training and experience, my role was to help facilitate a child-friendly, trauma-informed interview process, as children shared their stories of adversity, distress, anxiety, and sadness while in government custody. It was my role in particular to highlight the psychological impacts of children’s experience during immigration processing and custody. While full of pain and desperation, the children’s experiences served as testimony and evidence to be submitted in court in order to inform the ongoing class-action litigation that set the standards of care for children across the country (i.e., the Flores Settlement Agreement). Furthermore, children often expressed gratitude for the chance to be seen and heard in their experience, and many were motivated by the knowledge that sharing their pain might prevent another child from having to endure a similar experience in the future. It was a moving experience, to say the least.
Through the partnerships and relationships developed with attorneys and other health professionals in this first site visit, I have now had the opportunity to be present with dozens of children held amongst thousands of others in converted WalMarts, tent cities in the middle of the Texas desert, military bases, as well as in shelters and camp settings in Mexico (due to Remain in Mexico and Title 42 asylum bans) as they’ve shared their stories and experiences. Along with colleagues, I have been working to elevate these stories – backed by the established literature on the psychology and neuroscience of developmental trauma – to the forefront of our social and political awareness.
We have submitted expert reports and testimony in federal class-action litigation, testified in congressional and legislative briefings, produced reports with renowned international human rights organizations, published opinions in leading medical journals, submitted recommendations for policy and standards of care, and sought to educate the public through the media. Furthermore, I have discovered opportunities for an instrumental interdisciplinary exchange, as I have learned immensely about immigration law and advocacy, while also offering training and professional development for legal professionals on approaches for providing social-emotional support within the context of a trauma-focused interview with children (training that is often standard in psychology, but uncommon in legal education).
Ongoing Collaboration for Policy Change
While the challenges and concerns are ongoing, and many needed changes to immigration policy and systems are yet to be realized, I believe we have had impact in our efforts, both in individual cases and at the systems-level. When I signed up for that first volunteer visit, I had not expected to find my way into what has been the most rewarding and fulfilling work of my career, work that has changed my professional trajectory. This work would not have been possible without the foundational knowledge and experience I gained in my graduate training. The work was also made possible by battling a tinge of ‘impostor syndrome’ and by stepping out of the silo of traditional psychology practice and into the realm of interdisciplinary collaboration and advocacy.
Finally, and most importantly, the work and professional growth I have encountered is solely due to the courage and strength of the children and families who have shared their experiences and vulnerabilities with my colleagues and I. While I often brace myself for stories of pain, trauma, and suffering, I walk away with lasting impressions of resilience, altruism, and inspiration from the children and families I have been honored to speak with. I am grateful – and indebted – to these families, and I carry their stories with me as we seek to improve systems of care – and broader society – in effort to uphold justice, humanity, and child health.
Dr. Matlow was a graduate student on the TSS Group team from 2008 to 2013. He is currently a Clinical AssociateProfessor in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. He serves as Director of Community Programs for Stanford’s Early Life Stress and Resilience Program, and is a faculty member in Stanford’s Human Rights and Trauma Mental Health Program.
That was my response to a recent question about whether awareness of the sexual harassment in the Governor’s office in New York state was going to change things.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of letting go of the promise that awareness will change violence against women while working on book that I just delivered to the Oxford University Press, Every 90 Seconds: Our Common Cause EndingViolence against Women.
I open the book by tracing a bit of the history of our field, and the promise of awareness, back to the Women’s Movement of the 1960s and 1970s. With new awareness of the sheer frequency of violence against women and girls at the time, much started to change: The first rape crisis centers were founded, the number of domestic violence shelters expanded. Legislative change happened too, from new state laws about domestic violence and sexual assault to the passage of the Violence against Women Act. Medicine started paying attention also, adding posttraumatic stress disorder to the medical nomenclature as a nascent traumatic stress studies field began to grow rapidly.
Along the way, though, violence against women continued to be seen as a special interest issue — something that matters to women, or primarily to those who are abused and who abuse; but not necessarily to all of us.
Meanwhile, awareness of violence has never been greater, thanks to the #MeToo movement and near-daily headlines about sexual harassment and gender-based violence.
And yet, violence against women in its many forms has persisted, relatively unabated. Every 90 seconds a woman is raped. Another is assaulted by an intimate partner.
To be sure, we’ve watched declines of a few percentage points in some forms of violence. Yet, the same problem of women being victimized — along with girls and gender nonconforming groups — persists, just as it has for millennia.
So what to do, if awareness isn’t enough for change?
In the book, I argue that we need a new approach that helps people recognize their shared interest in ending violence against women, even if they didn’t think that violence against women has affected their lives directly.
We need an approach that helps people see that violence against women is tangled up with the most pressing public problems of our time — healthcare, immigration, education, and legal reform as well as gun violence and economic inequities. Issue by issue, then, I make the case that we share interests with people working on those issues, some of whom may never have considered the ways that violence against women mattered to them also.
By showing people how violence against women impacts the healthcare system and education access, criminal legal reform and economic opportunity, immigration and gun violence, I hope that we will be able to open doors to new kinds of collaborative action to end violence against women and make progress on those issues at the same time.
I hope you’ll see things you care about in the book along with work happening here in Colorado. The book is built on the foundation of what we’ve learned together over more than a decade of collaborating on research, while also pulling in national and international research findings.
The book is scheduled to be released in April 2022, just in time for Sexual Assault Awareness Month. I’ll keep you posted as it progresses and look forward to sharing it with you when it’s published. In the meantime, my sincerest gratitude to many people who have provided feedback and supported me throughout this project.
With September comes the start of our Fall Quarter at the University of Denver. One of the most exciting parts of kicking off an academic year is when new graduate students join our team.
This year, the TSS Group gets to welcome Becky Suzuki to our team.
A first-year doctoral student in the Department of Psychology’s clinical program, Becky joins returning graduate team members Naomi Wright, Adi Rosenthal, and Maria-Ernestina Christl.
As is our team’s tradition, we invite you to get to know Becky through the following brief Q&A!
Q: Welcome to the TSS Group. Tell us about yourself, please!
Becky: Hello! I am originally from the Denver area and very excited to be coming back to Colorado after a long hiatus. I graduated from Haverford College in 2016, after which I completed a Fulbright fellowship in Germany and served with AmeriCorps in Memphis, TN. For the past two years I lived in Brooklyn with my twin sister and worked at the NYU School of Medicine doing anxiety and trauma research. In my free time I like to do puzzles, ride my bike, read, and look at pictures of dogs on the internet.
Q: As a first year graduate student in the Clinical Psychology Program, what are your current research interests?
Becky: I am interested in how structural inequities in access to services affect the care and recovery of survivors of sexual violence. I am particularly interested in developing interventions that may better serve those who do not regularly interact with the mental health care system. I am committed to practicing community-engaged research that centers the experiences of people from marginalized communities.
Q: What drew you to the TSS Group?
Becky: I worked at the TSS group for one summer as an undergraduate and was impressed by the lab’s commitment to developing relationships with community organizations and service providers. In the years since, I have come to believe that community engagement is essential to conducting research that has real-world applications. I was also very drawn to to the lab’s commitment to an anti-racist and feminist approach to research.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish as a member of the TSS Group?
Becky: I am most excited to learn from my colleagues and conduct work that has a real impact on the Denver community. I hope to develop into a researcher who can contribute to the lessening health disparities for women and children.
Their opinion piece used the wildly popular Netflix docu-series Tiger King to point out dynamics of abuse in intimate and work relationships. Whether or not you’ve binge-watched the series, their commentary illustrates the applications of research on dependence and betrayal (including findings from our team) to the public’s understanding of abuse.
As Adi and Maria-Ernestina point out, “Long after the hype of Tiger King runs its course, the realities of interpersonal abuse and coercive control remain and require the attention of the public.”
The world has always been on fire for those who are marginalized and minoritized. Black people of all genders are murdered on the streets and in their homes. Indigenous women are killed at rates ten times the national average. Black, […]
In January and February, the world watched as Harvey Weinstein stood trial for (and was convicted on) multiple counts of sexual assault.
By March, our worlds were turned upside down by the coronavirus crisis.
These whirlwind events have had numerous implications for victims, survivors, and service providers. At the same time, these events can be better understood by learning from victims, survivors, and service providers. Therefore, our team has been focused on trying to bring victim-focused research into local and national conversations.
I hope you enjoy some of the TSS Group op-eds that have appeared across the country:
Last month’s Sexual Assault Awareness Month looked different from past years.
Instead of group shots on Denim Day, the TSS Group found ourselves piecing together photo montages from different corners of Denver and the world.
Instead of showing up to events focused on consent or what it means to start by believing, we’ve found ourselves hanging out in virtual spaces. For example, I did a video for Denver’s Start by Believing Campaign. The video summarizes some of the advice we heard from more than 200 women who disclosed sexual assault to a victim service provider (such as medical professional, police officer, counselor, victim advocate).
Pictures and videos are important. But they aren’t the same as talking withpeople about sexual assault. That’s why our team also used DU’s A Community Table program to facilitate an action-oriented online discussion about sexual assault.
A Community Table was modeled after the Chicago Community Trust’s On the Table program to promote civic and civil conversations about important public issues. The goal of DU’s program is to get people to host small-group conversations focused on issues we care about in our communities to identify ways we can work together for sustainable change. Any feedback that people share from those conversations then guides the next steps in DU’s university-wide initiative: DU Grand Challenges.
A Community Table seemed the perfect platform for conversation because we need to talkabout sexual assault as much now as ever – and it is waypasttime for change. Turns out, that’s exactly the focus of this year’s A Community Table theme: How do we overcome barriers to take action together?
I grabbed the host guide and used the conversation prompts to talk in new ways with student researchers from our team about sexual assault. The students identified lots of barriers that they see getting in the way of people taking action around sexual assault — everything from the pressures people feel to be quiet and taboos to the impact that leaders and institutions have on amplifying or silencing conversations.
The students had some great ideas, too, for what we can do differently together. We sent those ideas to DU’s A Community Table team so that the students’ voices are part of DU Grand Challenges going forward.
A Community Table is a potentially powerful way to keep conversations going about sexual assault past April. I can attest that it’s really easy to host a conversation because the DU Grand Challenges team has built up lots of user-friendly resources. A facilitation guide suggests questions and gives tips on how to effectively facilitate online conversations. There’s a training video if you want one, information on online tools for hosting the conversation, and more!
A Community Table runs through June 11, so there’s still time to host a conversation about taking action on sexual assault — or other issues you care about. I hope you’ll check it out!