The Adler University Center for Diversity and Inclusion, with support from the Chicago Campus Diversity and Inclusion Committee, recently hosted a three-part Common Hour series about the impact of COVID-19 on Chicago’s Black communities.
The first discussion on May 13 explored how the pandemic has affected the mental and physical health of Black communities in Chicago and the factors that have contributed to grossly disproportionate health outcomes. Moderated by Chicago Campus Assistant Professor Monica F. Boyd-Layne, Ph.D., LCPC, the panel included Chicago Campus Professor Nataka Moore, Psy.D., and Crystal M. Glover, Ph.D., Social Psychologist at the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center and Assistant Professor in the Division of Behavioral Sciences at Rush Medical College.
Dr. Glover and Dr. Moore discussed the lived experiences of Black communities leading up to and during the pandemic; and the compounding trauma of systemic racism and structural and episodic violence, including the murder of Ahmaud Arbery and countless other Black people. They also emphasized the importance of creating impactful messaging about the virus that embeds diversity and cultural compatibility into the safety guidelines through listening to and understanding the experiences of Black communities.
“Psychologists definitely have a role to play in thinking about the impact of trauma and thinking about cultural diversity, resiliency, and some of these other issues that I have not been hearing about in the dominant discussions—and that absolutely matter,” Dr. Moore said. “We need to think about how we are working with communities and leaders and bringing them to the table.”
Preparing Mental Health Practitioners
Chicago Campus Associate Professor Cadmona A. Hall, Ph.D. and Professor Janna Henning, Psy.D., continued the conversation on May 20 by offering guidance for addressing grief and loss with clients as they navigate the pandemic. The webinar, moderated by fellow Professor Lauren B. Melamed, Ph.D., provided actionable steps clinicians can take to provide the most culturally sensitive and socially just services.
“There’s a pile-on of loss after loss, stressor after stressor, all at the same time,” Dr. Henning said. “People are grappling with numerous trauma and loss experiences.”
They shared advice for practitioners working with Black communities coping with the pandemic and compounding trauma and loss, including:
- Normalize the grief response.
- Acknowledge and validate the client’s losses. “We are simultaneously experiencing non-death losses and death losses,” Dr. Hall said. “Too often there are other messages that invalidate that experience.”
- Allow for the client’s full emotional expression, even when it’s intense. “Rage is an appropriate response to injustice,” Dr. Hall said.
- When working with clients who have multiple losses, allow them to start with whichever loss feels most pressing. “I tell them, ‘Empty your pockets,’” Dr. Henning said.
Connecting COVID-19 Research to Practical Action Steps
The Center for Diversity and Inclusion welcomed guests from the Chicago Urban League Research and Policy Center on June 17 to wrap up the webinar series by offering next steps for keeping the conversation and actions going.
Moderated by Boyd-Layne, the webinar featured Kareem Butler, MPH, 2020 Census Project and Policy Coordinator, and Stephanie Schmitz Bechteler, Ph.D., Vice President and Executive Director of the Research and Policy Center. They discussed the organization’s recently published research paper, An Epidemic of Inequities: Structural Racism and COVID-19 in the Black Community, and how these economic and social issues compound the devastation of the pandemic.
“Especially if you are a Black person or if you are a person of color, I think these times can be particularly tough or hard,” Butler said. “To see not only a lot of communities, families, or loved ones going through a difficult time in light of COVID-19, I think it’s been that much more taxing that we are continuing to see a lot of racial violence and police violence take place that has really gone on since the beginning of the country, and has been almost entirely unresolved.”
The webinar also covered ways we can start implementing change and transforming our local systems.