Clinic offers services to students dealing with racial trauma

Stephanie Koons
April 28, 2021

Recent incidents of police brutality toward people of color, anti-Asian hate crimes and racially motivated Zoom-bombings (nationwide and at Penn State) all have contributed to feelings of grief, anxiety and psychological distress for minoritized students in the University community. In the College of Education, faculty members and graduate students are facilitating support groups to help Penn State students from underrepresented groups who may be traumatized by hate speech and violence directed toward their communities.

“The impetus was just our recognition of a lot of the issues that are going on and having support from the college to start this work group and be of further assistance and support for the community,” said Christy Beck, assistant teaching professor of education and Dr. Edwin L. Herr Clinic faculty supervisor.

The Herr Clinic, which is run by the Department of Educational Psychology, Counseling and Special Education (EPCSE), serves two purposes: the Counselor Education master's and doctoral programs use the Herr Clinic for clinical practicum and an internship in which they serve the University student population and the greater State College community; and the School Psychology Doctoral Program in EPCSE uses the clinic to provide services to children, adolescents and young adult referrals from the community.

Earlier this spring, the Herr Clinic established a drop-in support group for racial trauma that is open to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) students impacted by recent Zoom bombings and racial trauma, and a drop-in support group for processing Asian and Pacific Islander trauma that is open to students impacted by the hate speech and violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI). The groups are facilitated by master’s and doctoral students in the Counselor Education (CNED) program.

In addition to the drop-in groups, the Herr Clinic has been offering faculty-led workshops on diversity-related topics. Seria Chatters, adjunct associate teaching professor of education at Penn State and director of equity and inclusivity in the State College Area School District, facilitated the Recognizing Bias workshop on April 17; and Janice Byrd, an incoming EPCSE faculty member, conducted the Racial Trauma Workshop on April 8.

Kristen Nadermann, assistant teaching professor of education and Herr Clinic coordinator, emphasized that the drop-in groups are intended to build community and weren’t designed as counseling groups.

“It really is just some of our counselors helping to facilitate conversation and those connections with the participants so there is hopefully less of a sense of isolation and more community and togetherness,” she said.

When deciding who to designate as facilitators for the drop-in groups, Nadermann said, “we were very intentional about wanting to have individuals that were identifying with the same or similar identity with the group that we were trying to run.” Rhea Banerjee and Ashley Diaz, doctoral candidates in the CNED program, run the BIPOC group, while advanced master’s students Chungchi Liu and Ying Hsu facilitate the AAPI group.

“I think another strength our clinic has is we have a lot of fantastic, diverse individuals who come through the doctoral and master’s programs,” said Nadermann. “Very often, we’re able to match clients with counselors that are requesting different languages or different kinds of identities. I’m really glad to be able to offer that to the community.” 

For the doctoral students, she added, running the trauma group is an opportunity to put their racial trauma theory backgrounds into practice. The master’s students, on the other hand, have had experience running similar groups in the State College Area School District and can now build upon those experiences by focusing on another demographic.

Looking toward the fall, Beck and Nadermann said they are determining how the Herr Clinic’s racial trauma resources can be incorporated into the CNED curriculum as well as strengthening clinic policies so that they are more racially and culturally sensitive. While they are tentatively planning for in-person gatherings, Nadermann said, telehealth (the distribution of health-related services and information via electronic information and telecommunication technologies) helps to broaden access to services.

“Both the telehealth and in-person (models) have some really big benefits for the community,” she said.

While the circumstances surrounding the establishment of the drop-in groups are unfortunate, Beck said, it is important that BIPOC and AAPI students are provided resources to help them cope with trauma and mental health challenges resulting from hate crimes and discrimination.

“We don’t want people to be in pain but if people are in pain, we want them to be able to have a place where they can find support,” she said.

Anyone who would like to schedule an appointment for counseling, should contact Kristen Nadermann at kmc452@psu.edu.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated April 28, 2021