Scenic view of campus.

Racial trauma happens when individuals witness or experience racial discrimination, threats to safety or societal shaming due to the color of their skin or ethnic group affiliation. This trauma can also be felt when witnessing the harm experienced by other racial or ethnic groups. 

Racial trauma is something that Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) experience on a daily basis, and their experiences can range from painful to overwhelming. In many cases this trauma can show up in subtle ways, making it difficult to identify emotions and address it in the moment. 

Here are 5 ways to begin addressing racial trauma.

1: Acknowledging trauma

Information for allies:

If you are not a member of the BIPOC community, but would like to explore ways to be an effective ally, please check out this CU Boulder Today article:

How to be an ally to the Black community and communities of color

One way to begin coping with racial trauma is to acknowledge the impact of it: see it when it happens and validate the emotions that may arise in the moment. Journaling can be a useful tool to help you explore how you have been personally impacted by racial trauma. 

If you’re not sure where to begin, consider writing about a specific experience. What happened? How did it make you feel in the moment, both emotionally and physically? How does the experience affect you now? 

When journaling don't worry about proper spelling or grammar. Instead, focus on getting all of your thoughts and feelings down on paper. It can also be helpful to set a timer for 2, 5 or 10 minutes to allow you to journal free from distractions. 

2: Creating community

Finding and being able to hold space with others who have similar experiences can be healing. Creating community can be difficult at times, especially in the era of physical distancing. However, there are resources that can help you find connection:

  • BuffConnect: Find and connect with student groups across campus. You can sort groups by categories, including Social Justice, Advocacy and Activism. 
  • MeetUp: Join a Meetup group in Boulder to connect with people who have similar interests, passions or experiences. 
  • Dennis Small Cultural Center: The DSCC serves underrepresented student groups on campus by providing program support and a safe space for cultural expression and community gatherings.

No matter the community, holding these experiences with others is easier than doing so alone.

3: Taking action

Social action can take many forms, whether it be voting or volunteering in your community. No matter the form of social action, being involved in change can be helpful in processing experiences. Here are some things you can do now to get involved:

4: Working through therapy

Therapy can be a great space to process racial trauma with a therapist who is able to help you navigate your emotions and reactions. Therapy isn’t the answer for everyone, but can be a healing experience. Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) offers brief individual counseling for undergrad and graduate students, as well as referrals to therapists in the community.

CAPS also provides a free Students of Color process therapy group. Being a BIPOC in a predominately white environment is a complex and often stressful experience. The Student of Color (SoC) group serves as a way to openly engage in dialogues around what it means to be a student of color on this campus. The SoC group ultimately serves as a resource for students of color to unapologetically show up and let themselves be fully seen and known, where they can speak from the heart rather than worrying about what is socially acceptable. In a supportive and therapeutic environment, students will have the opportunity to deepen self-understanding and explore ways of relating to others. Advance sign-up and a pre-group screening are required for this group. You can schedule a screening appointment online to get started.

5: Remaining hopeful

Many BIPOC experience racial trauma on a daily basis. It is important to acknowledge this fact as we move toward change and healing. Holding onto hope is an important aspect of moving forward. This is not to discount what is being felt in the moment, but to hold onto the idea that healing is a possibility, which is so important in finding our way forward.

Additional campus resources

There are a number of resources available to BIPOC students and allies on campus. 

  • The Center for Inclusion and Social Change (CISC) supports all students in the exploration of their identities and creates a welcoming and inclusive space on campus that provides academic and personal growth. CISC offers community-building programs, educational opportunities for students to learn and teach, and a space for students to become active, informed global citizens by engaging with individuals from different cultures.
  • The Office of Diversity, Equity & Community Engagement partners with other departments and units across campus to create inclusive and equitable opportunities and experiences for all students, faculty and staff. They seek to make anti-racism, diversity, equity and inclusion cornerstones of all educational experiences and environments on campus.
  • The Office of Victim Assistance (OVA) works to provide a safer, more socially just and supportive campus community by providing culturally relevant trauma response and prevention services, including counseling, advocacy, consultations and support around various traumatic and disruptive events, including, but not limited to experiences of bias, abuse, assault, violence, and discrimination.
  • Don’t Ignore It provides information and reporting options for students, staff and faculty. Don’t ignore mental health concerns, harassment, discrimination, unwanted sexual behavior, relationship abuse, stalking or other concerning behaviors. 

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