Healing Racial Trauma in the Academy (Part II) – WOC Guest Post.

I am delighted to offer another guest post in my series of contributed posts by black women and other women of color. These go up on Wednesday.

PLEASE submit a post or an idea for a post for consideration! I want to hear from you! Email me proposals or drafts at gettenure@gmail.com. I pay $150 for accepted posts. The posts can be anonymous or not, as you prefer and can be about your experiences of racism/microaggressions in grad school or the career, your post-academic musings, hard-won advice for other students/faculty of color coming up, intersectional practices in teaching or research that you have found valuable, and also of course, makeup and clothes, or even tech gear you’ve found that helps in your work. More information can be found here.

Today’s post is by Candice Nicole Hargons, PhD. Dr. Candice Nicole Hargons is an award-winning psychologist and assistant professor at the University of Kentucky. She leads the RISE^2 Research Team, where they study sex and social justice with a love ethic. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, Huffington Post, Therapy for Black Girls, and Liberate Meditation. Dr. Hargons has been a leader in psychology and the community, serving on the executive boards of the Society of Counseling Psychology, American Psychological Association Council of Representatives, and the Lexington Urban League Young Professionals. She is also the founding director of the Center for Healing Racial Trauma, where they use love, liberation, equity, and creativity informed therapeutic interventions to help racially/ethnically marginalized people heal from racism. Connect with her at www.DrCandiceNicole.com and www.CenterForHealingRacialTrauma.com.


In the first post, I walked through some of my team’s research about how we react to racism and how racial trauma shows up in the academy. Now, I share four strategies most universities haven’t implemented that can initiate their healing racial trauma work. This is in no way an exhaustive list. There are many more, because many are necessary. 

  1. Go beyond having potential faculty write a diversity statement. We all know how to lie. Institute a course as a part of the faculty orientation that is intentionally designed to cultivate anti-racism.
  2. Place noble, flattering images of POC around campus: distinguished alum, faculty, and staff – including the staff who have blue-collar jobs, as was recently done at Princeton.
  3. Pay the POC who champion racial justice efforts on campus in bonuses or pay them in tenure points. Quantify and qualify how valuable that service is to the sense of belonging it creates on campus.
  4. Make an anti-racism course mandatory for all first-year students. If you’re fancy, like a university should be, evaluate the efficacy of the course in reducing racist action. 

For POC, if you’re at a university that is nowhere near implementing a racism reduction plan, here are four healing racial trauma strategies for you:

  1. Meditate for the first 5-10 minutes when you get to your office. Spend that time acknowledging what’s happening in your body, with compassion and deep intentional breathing. Bonus if the meditation is focused on racial healing. I love guided meditation for this (look for meditation apps for POC).
  2. Identify your work and community support systems, so you can get a hug, cuss someone out, or plot your exit strategy with people who care about you. Research shows time and again that having a social support system who can be in solidarity with you reduces race-based stress. If your university doesn’t have POC affinity groups, get some colleagues together and create one. 
  3. Preemptively write out what you fear and what you are and are not willing to risk, without judgment. When a moment happens where you need to make a decision about what type of resistance action you’ll take, you don’t want to have to figure out your risk levels then. I want to validate that fear is a natural part of the healing racial trauma process. Courage is too.
  4. Get the type of therapy where you can openly talk about how racism affects you, with a therapist who will validate the toxicity and toll of it. Many of us (I’m a licensed psychologist) were not trained to incorporate an intersectional, critically conscious, anti-racist framework in our therapy, so asking your current therapist to get this type of training or seeking a therapist that has had it is within your right. 

It’s the combined systemic and self work that create the conditions for healing racial trauma. The academy wasn’t design for this, but it can be. In the same way that physical exercise is uncomfortable, and sometimes painful, but important to our health, healing racial trauma is uncomfortable, and sometimes painful, but important to creating an academic environment where everyone can ultimately thrive. 

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