TOOLS OF RESILIENCE

Annie Redmond is a 1975 graduate of what was then Metropolitan State College of Denver

Photo by Amanda Schwengel

THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC AND SYSTEMIC RACISM AREN’T JUST CREATING FRESH TRAUMA FOR PEOPLE OF COLOR; THEY’RE ALSO RESURFACING TRAUMAS EXPERIENCED BY OLDER GENERATIONS. HERE ARE TESTED TOOLS PTSD EXPERTS DEPLOY FOR DEALING WITH TRAUMAS NEW AND OLD.

July 15, 2020

By Carol Covington , Siet Wright

For Annie Redmond, the legacy of trauma wrought by systemic racism is historic and personal.

When cellphone video showing the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers surfaced at the end of May, it triggered a long-buried trauma for the 86-year-old historian and trauma expert: the 1951 slaying of her uncle.

Redmond was 17 in spring 1951 when her uncle James McCoy was accused of making inappropriate contact with a white woman and shot in the back by his employer in South Carolina. She still vividly recalls sitting by his bed in a hospital intensive-care unit, listening to him struggle to breathe until he died. Every time another young black man is slain, this trauma is triggered.

“I was born 70 years after slavery ended. In reflection, the wounds and scars of my parents and grandparents were present in my early childhood. I carry them still,” said Redmond, who is pictured above. “Those memories have been a burden and a blessing. The residual effects of my trauma made it difficult for me to accept being mistreated, but I have also been strengthened in my experiences.”


WATCH: Black scholars launch dialogue series on race


Redmond is a 1975 graduate of what was then Metropolitan State College of Denver, where she earned a B.A. in sociology. Her education on generational and racial trauma spans her eight-plus decades of personal experience, where she learned at an early age that she would be treated differently based on her skin color. She recorded her experience with racial traumas to educate her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, including daughter Carol Covington, a co-author on this story who is studying how art can be used to cope with trauma through Metropolitan State Univerisity of Denver’s Individual Degree Program.

The tools of resilience used by people of color experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder from systemic racism have been strengthened by the passage of time through experiences such as hers, Redmond said. But the trauma being created and renewed by the current racial unrest is unlike anything she has experienced, in part because it is coupled with the new trauma associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I inherited a boldness and determination from my ancestors that has given me the ability to stay positive when there was no reason to do so,” she said. “I hope that I have given my children and their children the same steadfastness they will need to make their lives the best that they can be.”


RELATED: How to talk with kids about racism


Coping with new and generational trauma is a lifelong endeavor, and being able to confront the fear and pain it causes requires various tools and forms, according to PTSD experts at Metropolitan State University of Denver. It’s not easily treated, and there is no pill or quick fix for lifetimes of trauma. What took a lifetime to create takes a lifetime to treat.

PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act, war/combat, rape or other violent personal assault, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

For those who have experienced trauma or are dealing with the generational trauma of racial disparities, poverty, violence and/or scarcity, the killing of Floyd and the subsequent protests for racial justice may add to existing PTSD symptoms. There is no beginning or end for this generational trauma, and those experiencing it have a reactive response to trauma that is always on, creating many layers of trauma that can be overwhelming, Redmond said.


RELATED: Here’s what the exonerated ‘Central Park Five’ want Denver to know about racial disparities in the criminal justice system


Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic may cause a response in people with PTSD that triggers the fear of losing loved ones, dying themselves or simply the unknown, said Brian Bagwell, Psy.D., a professor in MSU Denver’s Department of Human Services and coordinator of its Fire and Emergency Response Administration program. Following a 20-year career as a firefighter and paramedic, Bagwell spent time providing psychological care to the New York City Police Department following the 9/11 terror attacks. In his work at MSU Denver, he teaches a course on trauma and resilience.

Lines of people at stores hoarding basic necessities such as food and toilet paper increases the anxiety a person may feel if they are unable to stock up on these supplies. Increasing death tolls, social distancing and economic peril contribute to PTSD symptoms that may cause an inability to cope, leading a person to unhealthy substance abuse, violence or self-harm, according to the APA.

“The COVID-19 pandemic and the external elements may trigger the compound and complex impact on those with PTSD,” Bagwell said. “The variables are out of our control, and how you modify your life will determine the degree of how it affects you.”

Step away from the news and social-media outlets where the triggering barrage of violence is more graphic, he suggested. At the same time, reconnecting with your support network of family and friends can also help those experiencing PTSD symptoms.


RELATED: Equitable policing expert says George Floyd ‘s death, protests will change policing forever


“It’s critical in this time to find comfort in loved ones and stay connected,” he said. “If you’re in therapy, stick with it.”

With many therapists shifting sessions online to stem the spread of COVID-19, care is readily available to those with internet access. Likewise, talking with people who have suffered from similar traumas can be an ongoing treatment that helps to alleviate anxiety.

Another tool to address PTSD symptoms is meditation, which can calm the mind from unsettling memories, said Anahi Russo Garrido, Ph.D., an assistant professor in gender, women’s and sexuality studies at MSU Denver.

In her Meditation and Activism class, Garrido teaches different forms of meditation to allow individuals to confront and deal with PTSD symptoms and manage stress. She believes that using meditation and activism help to empower people who have suffered from traumatic experiences by offering methods to use the negative for a positive outcome.

“As one engages with difficult, infuriating, painful and long-term historical issues that require all our attention and time, it’s key to make space for contemplative moments,” she said. “Meditation can be a tool that offers this space.”


RELATED: Here’s how mindfulness practice in the classroom can help students learn


Meditation can provide time to grieve and sit with one’s feelings, she said. It can also provide clarity to reenergize and keep going, Garrido said. That can allow a person the chance to make decisions with intention instead of acting out of fear.

Redmond offers one more tool of resilience for people of color experiencing generational and new trauma during these tumultuous times: faith that there is going to be a change.

This summer’s call to action for racial justice is one she heard and heeded during the civil-rights movement of the 1960s and political positioning of the Black Panther Party. But the situation is different now, and the movement is different this time.

“This is something totally different,” she said. “People on every corner of the world are standing up and saying, ‘Enough is enough.’”


The AHEC Counseling Center offers services to help combat post-traumatic stress disorder, such as crisis intervention, individual counseling, support groups, addiction services and a free online assessment. The Counseling Center also offers a list of mental-health apps to help keep track of PTSD symptoms and learn methods of managing treatment.

NEW IDENTITY

GENDER-STUDIES PROFESSOR MARY ROBERTSON’S SCHOLARSHIP SHINES A LIGHT ON THE NEW REALITY OF LGBTQ YOUTH IN AMERICA.

Mary Robertson, Ph.D.

June 1, 2020

By Siet Wright

When gender-studies Professor Mary Robertson, Ph.D., surveys the changing reality of American society, she sees a backlash against the field to which she has dedicated her scholarship.

The success of the country’s LGBTQ movement has brought sudden visibility to issues such as gender nonconformity and allowed queer youth to step into the light, she said. However, the current political environment doesn’t foster discussion about our society’s response to this fundamental shift in how we view gender.

“We are in a better place, and it will get better,” said Robertson, a 2005 graduate of Metropolitan State University of Denver’s Individualized Degree Program. “But when change happens, it’s hard to accept and disruptive. People tend to cling to what’s familiar.”

Her 2019 book “Growing Up Queer: Kids and the Remaking of LGBTQ Identity,” serves as a guide for the United States to better understand its increasingly visible queer culture by telling the stories of youth attending an LGBTQ drop-in center. Her ethnographical approach shows readers how these adolescents understand their sexual and gender identities. Her goal for the book, she said, was to help straight and cisgender people understand the language and complicated landscape of queer youth and make them aware of their gender and privilege.

“It’s about the LGBTQ movement and how it has changed our reality,” she said.

(LGBT stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender; Q stands for queer, which is not specific to sexual orientation or to gender identity. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people may all identify as queer. Transgender refers to people whose gender identity differs from the sex that they were assigned at birth. Cisgender refers to people whose gender identity matches the sex that they were assigned at birth.)


RELATED: Transgender athlete Chris Mosier is running through barriers in international sport


Robertson’s passion for gender issues was sparked in her mid-20s when she volunteered at a Colorado domestic-violence shelter, she said.

“I think I always had a sort-of-feminist bent, but it was really through music and activism that I began to understand the feminist movement and women’s rights,” Robertson said.

When she enrolled at MSU Denver in the early 2000s at age 28, she joined the University’s Feminist Alliance “from day one,” and she credits her honors thesis advisor Arlene Sgoutas, Ph.D., professor of Gender, Women and Sexualities studies, for encouraging her feminist activism. At that time, the University’s Institute for Women’s Studies (now the Gender Institute for Teaching and Advocacy) offered only a minor, so she cut her own trail studying gender issues through the Individualized Degree Program, focusing on feminist scholarship and women’s activism.


RELATED: 25 years of LGBTQ pride at MSU Denver


Robertson went on to study for her Ph.D. in sociology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, but her work at MSU Denver continued to play an important role in her research. As she embarked on her dissertation, she launched an ethnographical study related to human-trafficking movement that was born from her undergrad internship with AnnJanette Alejano-Steele, Ph.D., former chair of MSU Denver’s Social Work Department. Through her work with Alejano-Steele, Robertson saw that the most highly studied victims of trafficking were women and girls. It led her to wonder if men and boys were also at risk for sexual exploitation.

Her dissertation transformed into a study of vulnerable LGBTQ youth when she discovered a resource center in the Rocky Mountain West catering to them. Curious about their views and experiences, Robertson began to conduct life-history interviews with them. Using the scientific method of gathering qualitative data, she uncovered facts about this sector of society that has been overlooked by other sociologists. She completed her dissertation and earned her Ph.D. in 2014 and then turned it into her book while teaching at the University of California San Marcos.

“Sexuality and gender are deeply linked in our society,” she said. “Our culture sees sex as something you’re born with. My studies ask, ‘How much is biology a factor in gender, and how much is learned socially?’ There is so much left to be understood about sex and gender. It isn’t completely social, but my research helped me learn how it is socially influenced.”

HOW TO TALK WITH KIDS ABOUT RACISM

THE POLICE KILLING OF GEORGE FLOYD THRUST THE REALITIES OF RACISM INTO HOMES ACROSS AMERICA. EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION EXPERT ROSEMARIE ALLEN PROVIDES GUIDANCE FOR STARTING THE CONVERSATION ABOUT RACE WITH KIDS OF ALL AGES.

June 10, 2020

By Siet Wright

Start young

Rosemarie Allen, Ed.D.: It’s important to start talking about race early. Children categorize differences from as young as 2 years old, and it’s OK to discuss and celebrate those differences. If we don’t guide these categorizations with our children, they will fill the void with their own conclusions. Preschool-age children should be encouraged to discuss differences in a casual and neutral way.

Studies show that when parents talk about race with their kids, the children don’t internalize race but develop a strong racial identity. For that reason, black children have a more positive race-relations outlook than white children.


Learn what they know

RA: As parents, our job is to give children a vehicle for their feelings and trust what our children feel. Let them talk about their observations of current events and ask them questions. Ask if they have noticed that people on TV are upset and angry. Ask if they know why. Tell them it’s because not all people have been treated fairly and that some people are protesting and marching because of unfair treatment, especially black people.

Expand the conversation as children grow

RA: Talking with your children about race is critical at every age, and you give them more information as they mature because they are seeing more. From ages 2-6, we can talk about differences and fairness, but by age 7 they begin to better understand justice and consequences. By 11, you can teach them that they can do something about it, that it’s their job to stop it when they see it. Middle-school kids are learning about intervention and what they can do to change the system for social justice.


Recognize that every family’s conversation is different

RA: There is a saying in black communities: “At what age do I break my child’s heart?” It begins the moment they experience or see something racist, and that is sometimes very young. We make great efforts to ensure our children’s safety with scripts about what to say when confronted by police; we tell them not to put their hands in their pockets, that when they go to the store, they need to get a bag and a receipt every time.

These are the experiences of black families and people of color that differ from white experiences.

When discussing systemic racism with white children, ask them if it’s fair that black people are treated this way and if they would like to be treated this way. Tell them it’s OK to be angry about unfair treatment but when they see something happen like that, they should speak up about it and say, “That’s not fair!” Teaching children social justice from a very early age is happening now in classrooms across the country.

Emphasize empathy, understand anger

RA: Ask your child how they would feel if they were treated unfairly because of their complexion, hair or eye color. Ask, “Is that fair? How would you feel?” You don’t want them feeling sorry for someone but to feel anger and want to do something about it. Anger can be an action for positive change.


Nobody is colorblind

RA: It’s a fallacy to suggest that people don’t see race. There is an unconscious bias that we all have. While it lies outside of our consciousness, we have to do the work to bring it to the conscious level. Call out the obvious, that everyone sees race and it’s OK to notice that. What matters is that you are aware of your response afterward. What comes up for you when you notice someone’s race? You can choose how to shape your response.

I always tell my students, “Aware is halfway there.” I challenge them to “notice and wonder why.” When they respond to a person that they perceive to be different, they should notice their own behavior and wonder why they are responding that way. Once we are aware of our bias, our responses to that and what triggers our biases, we are better able to decrease and eventually eliminate the bias.

Some people take comfort in claiming not to see race, but that makes them not responsible for their actions or feelings. But you see race. Celebrate differences and tell your children, “Everyone is beautiful and different, and we all have a right to be treated with fairness.”

‘LIQUID GOLD’ STANDARD

EXPERTISE IN WATER POLICY AND LAW ARE MORE VALUABLE THAN EVER. HERE’S WHY AN ONLINE WATER CERTIFICATE FOCUSED ON COLORADO’S UNIQUE LAWS IS DRAWING PROFESSIONALS FROM ACROSS THE COUNTRY.

Clear Creek along I-70 in Idaho Springs

June 25, 2020

By Siet Wright

An 1859 gold rush drew scores of thousands of prospectors to what is today Colorado, where they formed mining camps along the rivers draining out of the Rocky Mountains.

The legacy of those camps isn’t just the cities and towns we know today – Denver, Boulder, Black Hawk and Georgetown all started as riverside mining camps – but also statehood in 1876 and the unique water laws enshrined in Colorado’s Constitution.

While the Eastern states based their water laws on riparian rights – a system for allocating water among those who owned land along rivers – Colorado’s water laws gave rights to the first party to divert water from a stream and use it for a beneficial use under a system known as prior appropriation.

More than 160 years after prospectors first applied prior appropriation along the banks of Cherry, Clear and Ralston Creeks, interest in the Front Range’s waterways is again piqued. But now, rather than mining precious minerals, working professionals from across the country are studying Colorado’s unique water laws through Metropolitan State University of Denver’s Water Studies Certificate, the only self-paced, online water certificate focused on the Rocky Mountain West.

“Demand for freshwater in our expanding population and warming world makes water the new liquid gold,” said Tom Cech, co-director of MSU Denver’s One World One Water Center. “That makes expertise in water policy and law more valuable than ever.”


RELATED: Here’s what Colorado’s snowpack means for rivers, reservoirs and wildfire risks


The certificate launched in 2017 and is designed to be flexible and accessible to professionals in myriad fields because it can be completed in an online environment, Cech said.

“People take these courses from every industry imaginable,” he said. “From brewing, agriculture, history, law, political sciences, sociology and many more professions and academic backgrounds.”

The certificate has also drawn interest from people on water commissions, government officials and municipalities across the West because laws in Colorado impact users downstream.

The Cherry Creek flows through Denver. Above: Clear Creek in Idaho Springs. Photos by Sara Hertwig
The Cherry Creek flows through Denver. Above: Clear Creek in Idaho Springs. Photos by Sara Hertwig

Castle Rock Water Commissioner Amy Blackwell earned the certificate to gain a firmer grasp on water law and issues at the state and national levels. Incoming commissioners receive an orientation on community and regional water operations, but the larger context is critical, she said.

“The water-studies program provides a deep dive on (state and national issues) and is a valuable resource,” she said.

Among the classes offered is the Colorado Water History course taught by MSU Denver Professor Matt Makley, Ph.D. It examines water in relation to the people who have lived here and how Colorado’s prior-appropriation laws came to be in their current form.

“Water is the topic for our time, for where we are in the human experience,” he said.


RELATED: Here’s how Gen Z is using hip-hop to fight for the environment


The online certificate is offered through MSU Denver’s Innovative and Lifelong Learning to meet growing demand for noncredit credentials in the water field. It’s aimed at professionals who want to increase their skill set and marketability in changing and challenging times, said Marketing Manager Kerra Jones.

Another driver of enrollment, she said, is the need for knowledge of water law and policy amid changes wrought by climate change.

“Climate change will significantly impact our freshwater resources throughout the world,” Jones said. “In the American West, over 40 million people depend on the Colorado River. Water is a finite resource in a changing world with an ever-growing population.”

While the certificate is designed for online learning, Nona Shipman, Hope Bartlett and Jennifer Riley-Chetwynd of the OWOW Center have expanded video learning to new levels in the wake of closures caused by the global coronavirus pandemic. In March, the OWOW Center launched TomTalks YouTube videos where Colorado water issues are discussed to keep the water community connected with OWOW activities.

This program includes conversations with water professionals, MSU Denver faculty members and international partners. It’s a way to continue the important water conversations of our time. Numerous outside groups have picked up the TomTalks to expand the reach of the new outreach effort.

All of these activities, with partners from all over the world, are again converging on Colorado, but instead of gold, our new collaborators are seeking water knowledge, a legacy that has been expanding since the initial gold rush of 1859. MSU Denver’s history, with its location on the Auraria Campus and the creation of the One World One Water Center, continues the legacy of exploration and innovation in Colorado and the West.

Pandemic and Protests PTSD

July 6, 2020

Trauma is a deeply disturbing experience that can re-occur over a lifetime if untreated.

By Carol Covington and Siet Wright

The legacy of trauma is historic. The tools of resilience have been fortified by the passage of time. The COVID-19 pandemic and the current racial unrest are unlike anything many have experienced before.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, terrible accidents and violent personal assault. In many cases, PTSD is a generational trauma that a person is born into.

The COVID-19 pandemic may cause a fear response in people with PTSD that triggers the distress of fear of losing loved ones, dying themselves and simple fear of the unknown.

Lines of people at stores hoarding basic necessities such as food and toilet paper increases the anxiety a person may feel if they are unable to stock up on these supplies. Increasing death-tolls, social distancing and economic peril contributes to PTSD symptoms that may cause an inability to cope, leading a person to unhealthy substance abuse, violence or self-harm.  

For people born with the generational trauma inherited from their parents and grandparents of racial disparity, poverty, violence or scarcity; the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent protests added to the already ever-present PTSD symptoms. For those people born with generational trauma, there is no beginning and no end. Their real-life experiences have grafted a sort-of hopelessness from being constantly exposed to trauma. This means their reactive response to trauma is always on, creating many layers of trauma that can be overwhelming to deal with.

PTSD is not something easily treated. There is no pill or quick-fix remedy for a life of trauma. What took a lifetime to create, it takes a lifetime to treat.

Brian Bagwell, Psy.D is a professor in the Human Services and Counseling department at MSU Denver and is the coordinator of the Fire and Emergency Response Administration program. Dr. Bagwell spent time providing psychological care to the New York City Police Department following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He teaches a course on Trauma and Resilience at MSU Denver.

“Because the COVID-19 pandemic and the external elements which may trigger the compound and complex impact on those with PTSD,” Bagwell said. “The variables are out of our control and how you modify your life will determine the degree of how it affects you.”

He suggests stepping away from the news and social media outlets where the triggering barrage of violence is more graphic. With many therapists conducting sessions online, care is readily available to those with internet access. He also suggests re-connecting with your support network of family and friends. It’s critical in this time to find comfort in loved ones and stay connected.

Coping with trauma is a lifelong endeavor and being able to confront that fear and pain takes many various tools and forms.

Meditation, therapy and activism are some of the ways that people can cope with PTSD symptoms. Talking with people who have suffered from similar traumas can be an ongoing treatment that helps to alleviate anxiety. Meditation can calm the mind from unsettling memories.

In her Meditation and Activism class, Professor Anahi Russo Garrido, Ph.D., teaches different forms of meditation to allow individuals to confront and deal with PTSD symptoms and manage stress. She believes that using meditation and activism helps to empower people that have suffered from traumatic experiences by offering methods to use the negative for a positive outcome.

“As one engages with difficult, infuriating, painful and long-term historical issues that require all of our attention and time,” said Russo Garrido. “It is key to make a space for contemplative moments. Meditation can be a tool, which offers this space.”

Meditation may offer a space to grieve and sit with one’s feelings. It may provide the clarity to re-energize and keep going. This can give a person a chance to make decisions with intention instead of acting from a place of fear.

86-year-old Metropolitan State University of Denver alumna Annie Redmond, B.A. Sociology ’75 is a historian and expert in trauma. Her earliest memories of racism were in her primary years while walking the long path to school. The school bus would slow down as it passed Annie and the other black children so the white kids inside could spit and curse at them. She knew that education would be her salvation, but life put many detours in her path.

The tragedy of current events triggered long buried trauma from her past, as she recalled the murder of her uncle in 1951, when she was 17 years old. He was accused of making inappropriate contact with a white woman and was shot in the back. That trauma is reactivated every time she hears reports in the news of another young black man killed. Redmond believes that the COVID-19 pandemic and the current racial unrest is unlike any she has experienced.

Redmond has faith that there is going to be a change. The call to action is a call she has heard before. Present in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and political positioning of the Black Panther Party, she has made a declaration of her own prediction. Things are changing and this is a different time.

“This is something totally different,” she says. “People on every corner of the world are standing up and saying enough is enough.”

AHEC Counseling Center offers services to help combat post-traumatic stress disorder such as crisis intervention, individual counseling, support groups, addiction services and a free online assessment. The Counseling Center also offers a list of mental health apps to help keep track of PTSD symptoms and learn methods of managing treatment.