Timely Invigoration in a Difficult Year

U-M’s interprofessional Trauma-Informed Practice course adopts an anti-racist lens.

When the University of Michigan announced the formation of the George Floyd Memorial Scholarship and additional anti-racism initiatives in mid-October 2020, more than 115 students were already well into an interprofessional Trauma-Informed Practice course (EDUC 541, HS 541, and SW 541) that had been updated to deliberately adopt an anti-racist lens. 

Shari Saunders, PhD, the course’s primary instructor (who is also Associate Dean at the School of Education and serves on the Michigan Center for IPE Executive Committee) had taught the course before. She has even taught it interprofessionally, to help future educators, social workers, and nurses collaborate to understand roles, responsibilities, communication, and how they all address trauma in their work, individually and collectively. However, not too far into 2020, Saunders knew “it was not a year to do business as usual.” Rather, she saw “a hot mess moment” with so much happening because of both the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing anti-Black racism and violence. She and co-instructor Beth Sherman, MSW, Associate Clinical Faculty at the School of Social Work, wanted to create a course that acknowledged the moment and centered on developing anti-racist trauma-informed practice. They began work on a revised course plan that they knew would be more difficult, but also more important for people of color and others. 

“We have to talk about self-care, COVID, grief, racism,” Saunders says. “ If we really think Black people matter, we have to practice differently. Enough is enough; now is the time.” 

The current course is designed to support healing via progression: individualistic, to sense of agency, to “advocacy to change conditions that cause harm.” To provide for both the students’ own self-care and their ability to help others, CAPS counselors and resources are embedded in the course syllabus. A search for updated readings led to articles like Toward a Psychological Framework of Radical Healing in Communities of Color, and Beyond Self-Care: Understanding Community Care and Why It’s Important. Multiple music clips help set a tone that words alone could not, such as H.E.R.’s I Can’t Breathe and Sweet Honey in the Rock’s I’m Gon Stand.

The newly revised Trauma-Informed Practice course started asynchronously in the first week of October, with activities for getting oriented to interprofessional team members from U-M schools of education, nursing, and social work (all students are in interprofessional small groups). Throughout the term, the interprofessional teams engaged with videos related to course sessions, readings, and video conferences that included case-based analyses, discussions, and team assignments. Mid-November brings a Zoom workshop with case-related exercises and group discussions. 

Saunders is working with evaluators from the Center for Education Design, Evaluation, and Research (CEDER) to examine the shift between the crafting of the course without an anti-racist lens vs. with an anti-racist lens. And she’s strongly pushing back against the idea that it—and she—be immediately heralded for “best practices.”  She explains: “I have to do it even though my knowledge is incomplete.” She subscribes to the idea of “radical hope”, meaning hope so strong it keeps pushing us to navigate the “tension between fighting against injustice in the now and imagining a vision for justice that we can operationalize in the future.”  Eventually, she hopes “other faculty will share examples, and we might say, ‘Look at what our colleagues are doing,’ and enter into conversations about the challenges and possibilities of learning about anti-racist practice in interprofessional spaces….’”

“I commend Shari and her colleagues for their efforts to revise their already excellent course to make it more relevant to the current environment,” said Michigan Center for IPE Director Frank Ascione. “Notably important is the interprofessional perspective involved, with learners from education, social work, and nursing working together to better understand how they can effectively address the trauma that impacts the children, youth, families, and communities that we serve—especially with the current stressors associated with the pandemic and structural racism.”