Courtesy of the Mental Health Association Oklahoma website

Virtual Symposium on Historical Trauma to feature timely discussions

For the first time in a virtual format, Mental Health Association Oklahoma will host their 2020 Zarrow Symposium on the theme of Healing from Historical Trauma. Over three days, from Sept. 30 – Oct. 2, speakers in disciplines from psychology to history to medicine will lead discussions about several historical issues that continue to affect communities today.

Every year, the Mental Health Association chooses a particular theme to focus on for their annual symposium; in the past, these topics have been things like trauma or housing. This year, looking to commemorate the centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre, they have chosen to focus on historical trauma. In general, trauma refers to an injury — generally something like violence or abuse. Historical trauma is a term that seeks to consider multigenerational traumas experienced by particular cultural or ethnic groups linked to their historical oppression.

Presenters will address a range of topics, including the Tulsa Race Massacre, the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the Trail of Tears and the Holocaust. Dr. Elana Newman, the University of Tulsa’s McFarlin Professor of Psychology, will speak at the Symposium on two different topics: as a facilitator of a panel on the role of memorials and museums in healing from historical trauma and as a co-presenter about what professionals have learned in disaster response methods since the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. Newman emphasized that the topics which presenters will teach about are relevant to Tulsa, to Oklahoma and to the Nation.

The four keynote speakers for the symposium highlight the cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural applications of historical trauma. Tim Wise is an anti-racist writer, who has published several books including “Under the Affluence: Shaming the Poor, Praising the Rich and Sacrificing the Future of America.” Wise will deliver his keynote speech on “Memory, Denial and the Weight of History: What the Present Moment Teaches us About the Racial Trauma of White Supremacy.” Dr. Joy DeGruy, the author of “Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome,” will deliver the second keynote speech drawing from her research and writings on those who have “struggled in search of the past, and continue to struggle in the present.” Dr. Darryl Tonemeh, the owner of Tonemah Consulting Group, is “dedicated to increasing wellness in Native communities” with attention to disparities in access to education and healthcare. He will deliver a keynote speech entitled “Trauma: From Healing to Dealing.” Finally, attorney, author and consultant Hannibal Johnson will deliver the last keynote. A prominent figure in educating and consulting Tulsa in navigating its history with the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, Johnson’s keynote will consider historical racial trauma in this context, as well as with consideration to the entire country’s racist history to find ways to “pursue justice and healing.”

Recent circumstances, including the growing momentum of the Black Lives Matter protests and the upcoming centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre, represent a growing awareness of the country’s racist history. As we continue to have these conversations, it is imperative to find ways to engage inclusively and productively. Acknowledging the role of historical traumas in informing present experiences can be a way for each of us to navigate a changing world.

Dr. Newman highlights the importance of these conversations to students on TU’s campus, specifically. She elaborates that “this issue of historical trauma brings together so many of the concerns and issues that students are learning about,” bringing together ideas from various classes, regardless of degree program. Further, Newman outlines the program’s focus on racial justice, representing “an issue that we need to address on our campus and world.”

The symposium will be conducted entirely virtually, via the Whova app. Students interested in attending this symposium can purchase tickets at the reduced student rate, $50, at the symposium’s website: A limited number of scholarships may also be available to students, as well.

Post Author: Piper Prolago