OU Health Child Study Center Participates in National Antiracism Summit
Published: Wednesday, November 18, 2020
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) hosted a virtual summit initiative in September with a limited and select group of participants in attendance, including a team representing the section of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics within the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine Department of Pediatrics. The team of six was comprised of staff and faculty members with OU Health Physicians Child Study Center.
Pediatric Psychologist Jane Silovsky, Ph.D., Child Study Center, and Professor and director of Research for the section of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, said, “To participate in this training was an inspiring experience. We understand that a broader perspective is essential to move forward, and we are moving forward – slowly but in the right direction. It is inadequate and unacceptably passive to simply say we are not racists. Our efforts must be decisively anti-racist.”
Silovsky also directs the Center on Child Abuse and Neglect at the College of Medicine, and holds the Children’s Hospital Foundation Jean Gumerson Endowed Chair in Pediatrics.
In a highly competitive process, NCTSN reviewed 70 applications, and extended invitations based on demonstrated levels of self-reflection, organizational commitment and readiness to take action. Summit participants completed pre-summit work as a foundation for summit activities. Required assignments included responding to discussion questions, which explored organizational mission and values statements; understanding of mission and values related to anti-racism agendas; and approach toward more explicit alignment of stated mission and values with perceptions of anti-racism.
The focus of the 2020 virtual summit was “Being Anti-Racist is Central to Trauma-Informed Care: From Awareness to Action.” Summit keynote speaker was Wizdom Powell, Ph.D., MPH, recently named one of 25 Essential Black Voices on Mental Health and Wellness. Powell directs the Health Disparities Institute, and is Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Connecticut. Powell’s comment forms a summary of the nation’s deeply embedded struggle with racial issues: “Anti-racism is not just the absence of discrimination and inequities, but the presence of deliberate systems and supports to achieve and sustain racial equity.”
Describing those intentional steps forward, Silovsky said the section is implementing a multi-pronged approach to address anti-racism for all marginalized groups through changes in their work and educational environments, with clients and in the community. Initiatives include a book club to specifically explore anti-racism topics.
Elizabeth Risch, Ph.D., pediatric psychologist with the Child Study Center, described the book club, which currently involves Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics team members, but she envisions the potential for expansion or replication. “There are so many benefits of bringing people together for open discussion of topics related to racism and anti-racism. This format provides content and structure while also allowing space to share personal reflections and experiences,” said Risch. “In starting the book club, we acknowledged a majority of participants would be white. We incorporated recommendations to decrease white-centeredness, based on the writings of author Ijeoma Oluo, to create a brave space for being vulnerable and transparent.”
With an anti-racism focus in both fiction and non-fiction, the book club’s inaugural selection was Ibram X. Kendi’s How to be an Anti-Racist. Risch said the book’s redefinition of racism made it an intentional choice to provide a lens for future books and discussions, consistent with work within the section. Associated with the book, Kendi’s one-hour TED Talk introduced main points, which allowed greater participation for those who would not have time to read the entire book.
Individual self-reflection and organizational readiness were considered in the application review process for summit attendance. Risch believes an advantage of the section is that many team members are involved in dissemination practice and research, and have an understanding of typical patterns of change. The pattern characteristically involves an initial small group of early adopters, followed by a growing majority, and finally, late-adopters.
“In becoming an actively anti-racist organization, we accept that the early work to educate and engage around anti-racism will be led by a committed group of individuals. While the summit team was limited to six members, we already have expanded our workgroup, and importantly, our section leadership has expressly committed to anti-racist progress.” Risch expressed their interest in partnering with others outside the section.
In addition to the book club, the section’s diversity committee hosts monthly presentations on topics related to anti-racism. These presentations have included Wayland Cubit’s TED Talk on Implicit Bias; panel discussions hosted by the Lynn Institute to encourage greater collaborative support of the Northeast Oklahoma City community; training by B.J. Glover, M.S., titled “Discovering Your Diversity Lens,” among other training opportunities offered through OU.
Promoting the work of organizational self-reflection, the section’s mission and vision statements are under review for revision to include an explicit, anti-racist focus. “We are creating guidance that will impact all clinical services, programming, training, and research done within our section. Thus, we seek both an organizational approach through systemic review of current practices and policies, as well as a personal approach through informal gatherings, and increasing the presence of race-related discussions in all we do.”
La Chanda Stephens-Totimeh, Research Project Coordinator, leads the section’s field data collection efforts. Her extensive background guides the integration of summit teachings in planning among data collection staff to improve engagement and enhance voices of marginalized groups in our research efforts.
Another proactive direction stemming from the summit experience is closer collaboration with the Lynn Institute Healthy Community Team. Lynn Institute for Healthcare Research, Inc. began a comprehensive multi-year program in 2014, launching an effort to measurably improve community health focused on a specific area in Northeast Oklahoma City. “This team has provided training and information to our section and we’re working to develop ways to strengthen our collaboration and support of these efforts,” Risch said.
Part of the Lynn Institute Healthy Community Team, the Northeast OKC Collaborative promotes an aligned vision for the community, whose residents are disproportionately disadvantaged, in terms of health as well as financial resources. Studies demonstrate that residents of this geographical area are more likely to die of chronic diseases, and have shorter life spans than Oklahomans across the state. With a diverse population that includes the largest concentration of African Americans in Oklahoma, the area also has produced some of the state’s most significant leaders and entrepreneurs.
“Heightened awareness, followed by informed action is the objective of these initiatives. Progress is made through understanding of perspectives and recognizing with greater clarity the devastating impact of racism, whether or not expressed overtly,” said Risch. “A deliberate and thoughtful journey is the route to realization and change.”