In a society where its members believe that one color or race is superior to another, its members who belong to the racial minority experience poor treatment based on these beliefs causing them social-emotional trauma. These racialized experiences get further accentuated by false narratives perpetuated by the society unbeknownst to its members which leads to an artificial gap that directly contradicts our mission of wanting to provide equal opportunities to ALL scholars. The trauma-informed approach to education considers these nuances and prioritizes the mission of challenging these false narratives.
On this episode, Spalding University’s Chief Diversity Officer, Associate Professor in Spalding University’s School of Professional Psychology, and Coordinator for the Collective Care Center Racial Trauma Clinic, Dr. Steven Kniffley, discusses what race-based stress and trauma is all about and how that impacts learning and personal agency of our young minority scholars. Helping young learners to take responsibility for their own learning to become self-reliant adults hinges on forming future-forward goals, good habits, and strategic plans based on personal priorities; however, the journey towards homing one’s Executive Function skills isn’t same for all children and we must understand the distinctions and use discernment when designing educational opportunities for these children.
About Steven D Kniffley Jr., PsyD ABPP MPA
Steven D. Kniffley Jr., PsyD MPA ABPP is Spalding University’s Chief Diversity Officer, an Associate Professor in Spalding University’s School of Professional Psychology, and Coordinator for the Collective Care Center Racial Trauma Clinic. Dr. Kniffley's area of expertise is research and clinical work with Black males and the treatment of race based stress and trauma. Dr. Kniffley also serves as an organizational diversity consultant and works with law enforcement departments on addressing conflicts between communities of color and police officers. Dr. Kniffley has written numerous books, book chapters, and articles on Black male mental health, Black males and the criminal justice system, racial trauma treatment and training, and academic achievement. Additionally, Dr. Kniffley was recently selected as one of Louisville’s top 40 under 40 for 2020, a recipient of the 2020 MediStar Healthcare Advocacy Award, a 2021 Louisville Healthcare Hero, and the inaugural recipient of the University of Louisville Diversity Leadership Award.
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About Host, Sucheta Kamath
Sucheta Kamath, is an award-winning speech-language pathologist, a TEDx speaker, a celebrated community leader, and the founder and CEO of ExQ®. As an EdTech entrepreneur, Sucheta has designed ExQ's personalized digital learning curriculum/tool that empowers middle and high school students to develop self-awareness and strategic thinking skills through the mastery of Executive Function and social-emotional competence.
Sucheta Kamath: Welcome back to Full PreFrontal exposing the mysteries of executive function. I'm your host Sucheta Kamath, I believe that we must take time to think about our thinking, reflect on our beliefs, actions and emotions so that we can carve a path for personal success. And particularly, those of us who are responsible for other people should really take that job seriously. A brain that is regulated and settled in equanimity is far superior, in its capacity to think, reflect and problem solve. And as an SLP, speech and language pathologist, cognitive rehab rehabilitation expert, and as an executive function coach, I have dedicated my 25 years of career to figure out how best to help people use their mind to change their circumstances, first for themselves, but then eventually for their communities. As an immigrant, a person of color, by the way, I did not know I was a brown person until I came to this country. So I find that fascinating journey for myself. I find myself that as moving to America, by default, I got brought into the American tapestry of race, class and privilege, which went unexamined while I was growing up in India. And one particular barrier, as I think about it is how do people do well for themselves? Is it pulling them pulling yourself by by the bootstraps? Is it by just working hard? Does working hard, turn out to be adequate? Or are there some more deeper ways that limitations on one's capacity to do well and reflect and problem solve are hindered? Those are the issues that I have begun to examine more recently. And, as I have believed that rehabilitation is teaching people new ways of thinking about their thinking, literally would involve helping people develop awareness. But what has changed within me is I need to become aware as a clinician and as a US citizen, that there are a lot of factors that have stronghold on outcomes for people. So with that in mind, it's a great, great joy and pleasure to bring this very special guests to talk about. I don't want to use the word fate but outcomes in a different light, and are certain groups more susceptible to unfavorable outcomes than the other? So my guest today is Dr. Steven Kniffley, Jr.. He is at Spalding University. He is their Chief Diversity Officer, and an associate professor at the School of Professional Psychology, and he also serves as a coordinator for the Collective Care Central Racial Trauma Clinic. Dr. Kniffley's area of expertise is research and clinical work with black males and the treatment of race based stress and trauma, which we'll dive deep into today. Dr. Kniffley also serves as an organizational diversity consultant and works with law enforcement department on addressing conflicts between communities of color and police officers. He has written numerous books, chapters, articles on black male, mental health, black males, and criminal justice and racial trauma treatment and training and academic achievement, which deeply interests me. Finally, he was recently selected as one of Louisville's top 40 under 40. Congratulations, Dr. Kniffley for that, and he's also a recipient of the 2020 MedStar Health Care Advocacy Award, in addition to many, many accolades that he brings to the table, one of my favorite books is Out of KOS, which is knowledge of self, which I'm really looking forward to talking to him about. Welcome to the podcast. How are you today?
Steven D. Kniffley, Jr.: I'm doing pretty good. Yeah, thank you for having me here.
Sucheta Kamath: Such a comprehensive background and such deep interest in many, many topics. But you're a psychologist, so I feel very comfortable asking you this question. As we think about executive function development and our agency over our learning our capacity to self reflect and strategize to become a successful or maybe a decent learner. What was your experience as a child, adolescent and young adult, as a learner and a thinker?
Steven D. Kniffley, Jr.: Sure. So I really didn't have the opportunity to reflect on what it meant for me to be a learner. Probably until I was a maybe a sophomore in college. Before that time, spent most of my time just trying to fit in and live up to the the expectations at the time for what it meant to be a black male, if we're talking about some of the expectations that are connected to being a black male, is being this dumb, deviant or dangerous individual. So although I knew on some levels, that I had some intelligence, I would oftentimes try to find a way to hide that, or not live up to those spaces, because either I didn't want to be made fun of by my peers, or B, I just didn't believe that I had the capacity to do the things that are seen in other spaces that among my peers were able to do. There's this quote that says what they see is what they'll be. And for myself, I didn't see what I was able to become in terms of becoming a psychologist, until I was really a junior in college, that's when I saw my first black male doctor and was able to realize the potential that I had inside.
Sucheta Kamath: Well, we are very fortunate for you to stick with things and and really bring your expertise to us. So I'm glad a lot must have gone into overcoming those stereotypes. So, you know, this is my first question to you, again, as an immigrant and as a woman, and being from India, you know, I love I forgive me, for those who are on the video can see this, but when I landed, the question was, are you this Indian? Or are you this Indian, you know, as if we're just so derogatory, which is pointing out to the red dot on your forehead versus, you know, those who are, you know, kind of, you know, maybe tapping your hand over your mouth, indicating the Indian call. I have, I spent a lot of my young adulthood in reconciling with that kind of pressure to become somebody so that I'm accepted. But also, I'm validated as an expert, or considered respect worthy, but I never questioned it, because I was very busy assimilating. So I wanted to first start with this idea that, you know, life experiences for people in the United States, particularly if they're not from the dominant culture are very distinctly different. But most people who are unaware, is the dominant culture, which is maybe the white culture. So I was just curious, can we start with the defining what is race best race based stress and trauma?
Steven D. Kniffley, Jr.: Absolutely. So it's a unique form of traumatic stress that black and brown folks experience that comprises three components. The first one is known as adversive, hostile racism, so many of us have been able to gain access into privilege spaces, but then are met with interpersonal violence, as a way to remind us that we don't deserve to be in those spaces, we then try to tell others around us the interpersonal violence that we're experiencing, and are then met with You're being too sensitive. We don't believe you, you know, you're making things up, which are known as micro invalidations. So adverse of hostile racism, interpersonal violence, this is not to remind us of replaces in the racial hierarchy. We then tried to tell other folks about that interpersonal violence and then are met with micro invalidations. So ways in which people try to tell us that systemic racism doesn't exist. And the last component is vicarious racism. Vicarious racism refers to having to bear witness to other folks his experience of racism and discrimination, while still having to navigate your own. So race based stress refers to having to navigate all three of those components as a black or brown person here in the US. So struggling with diversity, hostile racism, struggling with those micro invalidations, then also struggling with the experience of witnessing other folks has experienced racism, via vicarious racism. And all that really stresses us out. It can cause significant trauma like symptoms.
Sucheta Kamath: Well, I'm so glad you you broke them into three parts. You know, I think one of the distinctions that made sense to me, is, you know, really micro aggression versus micro invalidation. I think, if you don't mind, maybe spending a little bit more time I'm on that, because I think we live in a society and by definition, you know, we seek validation because we want to belong. And and there is one way to belong is to be included. But another way to not belong is to be not excluded but not included. And I think this validation is such an important piece that I never actually thought until I started reading about it. And so I would love to know, what kind of impact does that have, maybe on the developing mind, but also with adults who are fully developed because we are one thing you often talk about, we are so busy presenting our fully assimilated and fully coped person. So everything that we have struggled with is has to be made invisible, so that must take a big toll on people.
Steven D. Kniffley, Jr.: Absolutely. So micro aggressions is a umbrella term that really describes the ambiguous the ambiguous racism that we might encounter. So it's subtle in nature. It's interpersonal. And it allows folks to communicate racism and discrimination towards folks in a more covert manner. underneath the umbrella of microaggressions are three different types. So micro validations, like we just talked about when people do not believe or try to discount your experience. There's also micro insults, and also micro assaults. And so micro insults are the ways in which folks tend to invert, like, say that we don't matter in certain ways. So if you were to say, Yes, I'm a doctor, and folks will say, Oh, you know, what, that kind of like, oh, as in wondering, how can that be? Or someone was to say, or come up to me and ask, How many kids do you have? Versus how do you have kids, you know, that's a marketing solid, because underneath that is this idea that they assume that I have kids, because I'm a black male, because black males, they think have a lot of kids. So those are micro insults. Micro assaults are the subtle ways in which we communicate interpersonal violence towards phones. So for example, utilizing a word such as thug. Although on the surface that is a race neutral word, we oftentimes utilize that word only when we're referring to black males between the ages of 18 and 24. And it's been able to replace some of the more racially charged words that have been used in the past. So microaggressions is an umbrella term to describe the kind of subtle slights and insults that we offer towards folks of different marginalized backgrounds. Underneath that are micro insults, micro assaults, and also micro invalidations. What the science is telling us is that micro aggressions cause harm, because of the sheer frequency in which they happen for black and brown folks. Sue and colleagues, I refer to it as a death by 1000 cuts. What we know for our youth of color specifically is that they encounter microaggressions early on in their lives. Typically, they've experienced their first awareness of microaggressions, between the ages of four and six. And from that time, until they transition into adulthood, will ultimately experience around six microaggressions a day as they try to navigate their lives as black or brown folks, what the science is telling us is that this can have a significant impact on our executive functioning, as you've mentioned here, because of the stress that is connected to having to navigate microaggressions on a daily basis. And so, there's the experience of cortisol, and those dynamics that influence that.
Sucheta Kamath: So, when somebody endures that, and the justice is unrelenting, there is no stopping this, you know, it could be simply while you're walking in the hallways as a as a child, it is could be the teacher. You know, both my sons went to a private school, a majority Christian school, and there was not, you know, they're Americans, but they were called Indians, even though they were not and also there is a secondary, which is we are Hindus, so talking about, you know, religion in that context. So an almost the one disparity that I see is that the recipient is made to feel that you're making a big deal which you talked about this hypersensitivity being called hypersensitive. If, and I really, you know, I spent a lot of my time in as a young person who was extremely observant, being blamed for protesting that was often converted into your being too sensitive, when I was perceptive. So that to me also can be very painful. That means the very mechanism that you access is to say something is then turned into something invalidating tool. So, I will talk about how to maybe manage that better, but what can we talk a little bit about the dominant group and their attitude towards these experiences, which they are one not privy to, but second, they, that requires a lot of thinking and reflection. So how, how to make because one of the things I saw in the communities, particularly leadership community I saw is people after George Floyd's death, there was some sort of desire to for racial healing. But people looked to black and brown people to say, what do you think we should do? And that, to me, is also a form of burden that you're deflecting. So I'm sure you you have some better ways to think about that. So what do you what do you think we should make of that?
Steven D. Kniffley, Jr.: Sure. So one of the challenges and asking black or brown folks, whether we should do about it, is that we can't dismantle the system that we didn't build, you have the blueprints, you have the tools in order to construct it. And to deconstruct it, I don't have those tools, you pick me up from where I was from, you carried me into your house, and you told me that I needed to stay here for generations, there's nothing I can do to dismantle it in the same way that you can easily dismantle it, by using the tools that you use to create it. And so I think that's one of the difficulties for us to kind of reflect on in this space. Another challenge lies in the fact that our privilege is essentially the water that many of us swim in. So it's hard for us to be aware of something that has been around us our entire lives. As I think about being a male or cisgender. Male, I reflect on how the world was created in a way to make life easier for me in terms of representation, in terms of being able to always have voice and choice in different spaces, at least based on being a male, and about how that has been something I've just taken for granted. Because it's always been the way that things have always been. And so if we're in this space now, where folks are saying that the way things have always been has caused difficulty for me, it's hard for me to see that because well, it's always been that way, I've just taken it for granted. If it's always been that way, and then you say things are harmful because of that, then if I acknowledge that that has caused harm for you, then I then have to take ownership of doing something about it. I can't just ignorantly swim around in the water, and say, I don't know what's going on. Because now I've been made aware that this water that was swimming in is good for some folks, and bad for many folks out there. And no one really wants to take that type of responsibility. Because it's hard work to dismantle systems, racism takes a long time to build a house. And it takes an equal amount of time to dismantle a house as well.
Sucheta Kamath: This reminds me of a psychologist who studied a small in a leadership space, small tweak if there was a man in a boardroom. And when he was conducting a meeting, if he started with a woman who was a minority in presence, and asked her opinion first rather than waiting for her, or it often happens when the dominant group is present, the non dominant group members tend to hang back or not participate. And one of the ways to counter that is to kind of give them an opportunity, and not really believe that that opportunity is going to somehow make somebody lose their privilege. So I see that as twofold, as you mentioned, one is there is a psychological responsibility to really examine and examine the privilege and show some willingness to give that up. But second, is also some specific steps that can be taken. If if we can talk a little bit about the next thing that comes in line to me is the development of identity. So um, is I've been thinking a lot about, you know, the process that goes into developing a white identity versus a racial minority racial identity. Can you talk us through that and what are those differences? And often, if you look at education, there is nothing Built into education that addresses two different paths for people, particularly children. And as they are developing, while we talk a lot about agency like, you know, become self reliant, become self sufficient, get organized, pursue your goals. But as if you're supposed to do that without any attention being paid to your mental social, psychological health.
Steven D. Kniffley, Jr.: Absolutely. So when it comes to the identity for people of color, there's three tasks that is designed to address affirmation, teaching of coping strategies for systemic racism, and then also the transference of a historical narrative. So affirmation, coping and the transference of a historical narrative. And so those are the main tasks that we're trying to attempt through this process called racial socialization was the ways in which we attempt to teach our youth about who they are as as people of color. So the first thing we're trying to teach them is that they should be proud of who they are as black or brown folks, which is the affirmation part. There have been different monitors that people have used within the black community is saying things like, I'm black, and I'm proud, you know, I'm proud of my here. You know, I kind of all those type of things to remind us that who we are, is special. And it's something that deserves to be affirmed and recognized. Coping talks...
Sucheta Kamath: No go ahead.
Steven D. Kniffley, Jr.: Coping talks a lot about because systemic racism exists, that we have to learn how to cope with it in a way that is meaningful for us. And there's also adaptive. And so there have been two different ways in which we've attempted to teach our youth. One is called racial legacy skills. The other one is called racial literacy. Racial legacy refers to teaching folks to be aware that racism is going to happen, where solidity or their hand says that it's more of an assertiveness skill set that says, This is what you should do. When racist things happen to you. Many of us are just leaning into racial legacy and have to move into a racial literacy space. So affirmation, coping, and the last piece is passed on a historical narrative. So especially in today's time, where we are starting to lose ground when it comes to talking about the bad things that have happened. In the past here in America, it's even more important now that we're sitting down and we're having conversations about the genocide of indigenous folks about child slavery for black and brown folks, about the difficulties, immigrant folks of variety of places, have had Japanese internment camps, you know, Chinese Exclusion Act of 1954, just making sure that we're having conversations around all of those things, because it reminds us that there's a history here that explains some of the systemic racism that we're encountering. So when it comes to developing a racial identity for black and brown person, the goals are to affirm to teach coping strategies and to pass on the historical narrative.
Sucheta Kamath: So one question about this, you know, affirmation process. You know, we have a lot of literature that talks about students of color, having teachers of color having a positive impact. We also know for example, students with disability, getting education, as amongst other students with disability have better outcomes for them. But we are not transposing some of the best practices that we deploy for students with disability to racial healing, do you see a way that we can bring that wisdom that we have taken a lot, a lot of time to study how children develop skills, when there are barriers to learning? And I feel racial identity or trauma is definitely a barrier for self potential dating for every child, and but we're not using those best practices. What are your thoughts about that?
Steven D. Kniffley, Jr.: Sure, the probably the biggest barrier is just representation, both in terms of what our teacher force looks like. And then also the curriculum that is used to pass on education to our youth, well, we're aware of right now is that somewhere around 88% of our public school teachers identifies as white and about 80% of them identify as white women. So it's really hard to create a space where our youth are able to see themselves and their educators, if everybody doesn't look like them in the spaces in which they exist. So that's the first part of representation. The other part of representation refers to the curriculum that we utilize within our school settings. Oftentimes, our students are aware of the shape spears and, you know, other types of white authors, where are unaware of the black or brown authors that are out there like the Toni Morrison's and the Audrey Lloyd's and Belle Hook's and all those type of folks that are really created, you know, meaningful literature, both fiction and nonfiction, that communicates the background experience. But our youth are typically not exposed to those things, firstly, because because their teachers are not exposed to those things. And so do not think, to teach that type of material. What we know is that when our youth are able to see themselves, especially our youth of color are able to see themselves in their curriculum, they're more likely to be involved, that reduces school apathy, and increases academic achievement. But our youth can't do that, if we're not being intentional, both in terms of creating representation in our teacher force, that also increase the representation of use of color and people of color in our curriculum.
Sucheta Kamath: You know, this reminds me of a Yale, not Yale sorry, Princeton classics department, one of the professor's there, person of color actually talked about, you know, how our psyche is shaped right, what we call Western philosophy, and who is writing it and and what we consider the golden standard. And one of the things that he pointed out that, during Roman, or Greek, a Greek Roman period, statues were of color, they had color, and eventually, that those marble, marble was, you know, cleaned out, so to look white, so that whiteness began as an identity, something that you began to have reverence for. So when you do these kinds of systematic steps were taken. But if we never revisit them, we are actually to your point, you know, losing an opportunity to bring this historical significance. Why? Why do I not see, you know, even when I go to different museums, I see every everything pristine, but whiteness as as an idealized or a color. Because race ultimately comes down to color and privilege. Do you see that as one of the, you know, pervasive method of communicating what is considered normal and ideal?
Steven D. Kniffley, Jr.: Sure, I mean, it's even present within our dictionary definitions between white and black, you know, if you look in the dictionary, wide is seen as good and clean and pure, and kind of all those type of things. But if you look in the dictionary on your bike, it's dirty, it's dark, it's devious. So those are the terms that we're using to describe people based on these racial backgrounds, that we've already set the expectation that white folks are a certain way, that black folks are a different way.
Sucheta Kamath: So we should really talk about now, the impact of this racial trauma, because it not only we now have ample literature, particularly the site because of the neuroscience that we know, it has tremendous impact on individuals and as well as groups. So can we maybe, can you share some of the research that's out there that talks about the way it impacts the brain of an individual, the health or physical, mental, psychosocial concerns, you know, constitution of a person? And also, then there's added layer of perceptions will because of perceptions? You know, one particular thing I've been talking a lot about, with my contemporary colleagues is over diagnosis and under diagnosis, you know, who are we diagnosing with to have disability and and then who is actually considered not gifted in qualifying for certain type of specialized services? Because all this is access, right? And who we are using? I mean, you are a psychologist, I'm a speech language pathologist, we are using measures which are standardized for 1000s of children, but what is the representation in that? So we are using baseline that may not be valid or need to be questioned? So can you share some of those ideas with us?
Steven D. Kniffley, Jr.: Absolutely. So there are two main areas in which folks are impacted by the experience racism and discrimination in regards to their psychological health, and also their physical health. When it comes to our psychological health, similar to other types of traumatic disorders. We struggle when it comes to hyper vigilance and intrusive thinking, difficulty concentrating, challenges with our emotional expression, etc. Those kind of challenges with emotional expression, difficulty concentrating and focusing on the poor find places for us to focus on because that's typically Where I missed diagnoses or overdiagnosis happened, we are working with youth. And they are referred to us for an ADHD diagnosis or for an anger management type of issue. It's important for us to reflect on it to evaluate if this person has experienced some form of trauma, because there's some potential overlap between the two where a traumatized kid might appear, having difficulty concentrating, or really what they are focusing on, is hyper vigilance and managing intrusive thoughts. Additionally, a kid that is struggling with anger might be utilizing the skill set that they were socialized to use, especially as males, when it comes to anger and aggression. What we know is that there's this term out there called alexithymia. alexithymia refers to having lost or limited ability to communicate your emotional experience to others. And so that happens oftentimes when we experience trauma. And so if I've been traumatized based on my racial background, and I've also subsequently been socialized, to only communicate anger and aggression as emotions, how much more so am I going to use those skills, when I've lost the ability to communicate other parts of my emotional experience? And so then instead of looking at that, as a potential kind of, we instead see these kids as behavioral management type of issues and use a different type of intervention. So that's the kind of psychological component, the physical component...
Sucheta Kamath: Can I just interject with one more idea, if you can shed some more light is also then the way we punish. So one of the most important things in schooling experiences, how you cooperate in a larger group setting and and how you engage, right? So a lot of children who are getting suspended or kind of receiving infractions are for those behaviors, which may be immediately perceived as a lack of respect. And as if the culture has not taught how to respect authority versus in different contexts. This might be just considered, like impulsivity and lack of attention, right?
Steven D. Kniffley, Jr.: Yes, that's correct. And we have two questions that we can ask and the school setting, whenever a kid brings in kind of trauma influence behaviors, we can ask what's wrong with you? Or we can ask what's happened to you? We ask the question, What's wrong with you? That leads to that dynamic of utilizing more containment practices as part of our disciplinary processes. But we focus on detention, suspensions and expulsions when we ask the question, instead, what's happened to you, that leads into this idea that there are external factors that are influencing that use behavior, and that we need to instead utilize social emotional skill building components, to help a kid to better navigate those type of difficult environments.
Sucheta Kamath: Yeah, I consult with this district where they are with with their alternative school. And by definition, a child comes to an alternative school because they have reached some threshold of tolerance, like the system has said, This is it, you seem to be not learning, and you will become a nuisance to other people's ability to learn. But when they arrive in this alternative setting, they are not being taught, they are not able to pay attention. But all the work is now you are self taught. So you need to finish the quota of your work, so that you can get passing grades so that you can return to school. To me, that now is a huge disadvantage, because you're not being taught. And one of the best ways we learn is vicarious learning. Engaged learning is becoming curious. Somewhere you get to challenge information or reflect on your thinking. So to me as a punishment are one of the same thing that we do with suspensions is we remove the child from the opportunity to learn as a way to somehow teach the lesson that needs to be learned, which is a terrible way that we have crafted the this system. So sorry, I know you're on to the second topic, which is the physical effects as well. So just wanted to share that as well with you.
Steven D. Kniffley, Jr.: Yeah, awesome. Yeah, thank you for that. Really, in a lot of ways. All that dynamic is preparing Are you for is the prison setting? Because that's essentially what happens there. When people deem that your behavior is too outside of the norm. You're removed from the population, and you're put into a space where you also have to do similar things. And the way that we've talked about alternative schools here.
Sucheta Kamath: Yes, go ahead.
Steven D. Kniffley, Jr.: When it comes to the physical component, what we know is that there's this hormone in our body called cortisol, cortisol As a stress hormone that helps us to fight, fight or freeze in difficult situations, we all have cortisol, it helps us to manage very dangerous situations, powerful black and brown folks, because we've encountered more dangerous situations ongoing across our lifetimes. And across the lifetimes of our ancestors, who typically have a higher baseline up or saw in our bodies. What we know is that how those cortisol can contribute to all types of physical health related issues, such as insomnia, hypertension, high blood pressure, diabetes, fatigue, migraines, acid reflux, etc, all kinds of stress related issues. The interesting thing is, is that these types of difficulties where the cortisol are generationally transmitted, they are encoded in our in our DNA, and can lead to chronic illnesses such as cancer, it can contribute to cancer. And also, it seems to be a US effect, where we've seen studies where African immigrant women who gave birth to their children in Africa, would then come over here, and then we will follow their generations of kids. And with each generation, the kids will be smaller, and the kids will be born earlier. And so there's something insidious about the experience of cortisol and its connection to the experience of racism and discrimination, that it impacts the experience of immigrant folks, as I try to navigate their spaces here.
Sucheta Kamath: I think that's just simply profound. You know, I read this particular reference that a pregnant cow they studied this course veterinarian science, but when was electrocuted, I mean, there were fences created electric fences to keep them contained. But a pregnant cow who experiences a shock, the calf three generation later still carries that memory. And I mean, that is true about animals, I'm sure some part of that can be applied to humans as well. So I feel what you're talking about is deep genetic changes, that we begin to see in generations to come. And that is, to me also, you know, when we talk about getting the tomorrow's leaders, you know, talk about most successful and prepared generation of students for to handle 21st century to me, if we do not address this, we're really not going to create prepare nation to become most mindful, thoughtful, and with great humility, and we are missing the mark on it so much. And I hope people listen to experts like you and really take that calling seriously. Because almost they're like people are like thinking though those two exist in some other sphere of operations somehow. So let's continue in terms of as we think about effects on an individual when their physical and psychological impact. But groups are also showing that as right as communities, because ultimately, when we think about pelo theory, who says you know, read the word to read the world. So that consciousness when we talk about raising your social awareness is one of the ways to kind of take charge of systemic oppression. But groups capacity to do that also need some, some power there?
Steven D. Kniffley, Jr.: Absolutely. So what ends up happening for many of us, is we are constantly in this space of a survival mode, rather than a thriving mode. If we think about at least black folks here, our earliest experiences with chattel slavery, our ancestors try their best to cope in those situations by utilizing a skill known as compartmentalization. compartmentalization essentially refers to saying, I'll deal with this at a later time, because I just don't have the emotional or the cognitive space to process that at this, you know, at this moment. The difficulty with that is that we never got around to processing those experiences. And so we would then just pass on that trauma to the next generation of folks who would then encounter their own experiences related to racism, discrimination, etc. You lost compartmentalization as a coping strategy. And then say, well, we'll just deal with that a later time but will then just pass that on. And so now we have today's generation of folks who have are holding all these boxes of trauma and if you think about what it looks like to hold a bunch of boxes, it's really hard for you to move, you can't see anything but those boxes, and if you were to set those boxes down You wouldn't want to open them because your soul, you know, he's just like, I don't want to deal with all that right now. And so what we've created is a whole generation of folks that are having to hold all of these components, these trauma narratives, and still have to navigate their own experiences in the world was crazy, that more survival tactic, rather than finding a way to thrive in these types of steps and these type of systems?
Sucheta Kamath: Well, maybe I hope, people listening, don't get exhausted thinking about the complexities involved here. But you also have given a lot of thought about how to manage it, and we should not lose hope, or particularly I think we should not hold lose sight of the big picture. And that's to me also is the executive function, you know, how do you maintain a sense of commitment to the bigger outcomes and tolerates immediate and intermediate discomfort and challenges, or hard work is the art of well regulated executive function so. So what do you recommend we do with all the things that we have, are embedded in having to acknowledge and then heal from racial trauma.
Steven D. Kniffley, Jr.: So there's, we have our Collective Care Center here at Spaulding, and we are a racial trauma clinic that focuses on treatment, education, and service related to the experience of race related stress and trauma. So as a part of that there for our youth ages six to 12, we really try to encourage three areas of support, advocacy, awareness, and affirmation. So those are the skills that we need to be teaching our youth in order for them to be successful in these spaces. When it comes to our adults. It's all about teaching development, the development of racial identity, creating those spaces for processing racial trauma, and then also teaching folks the skills that are needed to navigate racist and discriminatory spaces by utilizing micro interventions for micro aggressions utilizing racial literacy skills, etc. So there are treatment approaches out there that allow us to provide healing to folks that have experienced racial trauma across the lifespan. And there are also assessment tools out there to help us to make a distinction between PTSD, ADHD, behavior management disorders, then also racial trauma as well. So we're we're here, centers like ours are ready and willing to help.
Sucheta Kamath: And thank you for for doing that. And thank you for starting and I do have a question about your other role as a diversity officer. But before that, I thought, I'll share an interesting conversation I recently had a chance to listen to it was a conversation with Dr. Dixon Chibanda, I think if I'm pronouncing it right, he's a he's a psychiatrist from Zimbabwe. And he actually has managed to study this, but he recognized a lack of mental health resources in the community in Africa, and, and particularly one of his, you know, adolescent patient, who he thought should and recommend it that should come and see her was experiencing deep depression and suicidal ideation. But the bus fare was $10 and could never get to him. And the next time he heard about her was that she had committed suicide. And that was so traumatic to him. So he thought and thought, how can he do this, when we don't have enough professionals and the amount of money that goes into accessing care, so he started this project with a with involving the community, particularly elderly women, and for their listening capacity for the role they play, and the kind of life experiences they have. So somebody to banter with, and so he came up initially, he said, he came up with an idea of a mental health bench. So anybody who needed could sit there. And so these wise women kind of called him aside and said, Doc, listen, this is a bad idea to call a bench mental health bench, nobody's gonna come. And so then he changed that to friendship bench. And that was seen to have incredible shift in the community, where you get to hear people with wisdom, but you also get to talk about your personal and private experiences, and who better but somebody like a grandmotherly person in the community. So I just feel we need friendship benches in America, you know, we have a deep and grave need. We don't have enough qualified people. But we also are looking at mental health as a compartmental approach to quality of life. Everybody should have safe, but more more so. Board paces to talk about our mental anguish. and acknowledge those who are, are have, you know, who are not a majority or minority have even greater psychosocial burden and physical burden. So are you aware of any such project we are thinking about in America more globally, rather than, you know, as a clinic, which also creates a more deficit based model in thinking about mental health?
Steven D. Kniffley, Jr.: Sure. So here in the city of Louisville, and also has become a national project is that many folks are partnering with barbers. Barbers are seen as trusted folks here, within the black community. So these are typically the folks that you will go to, to have pretty intense conversations with because you're sitting in the chair for an hour or so. And you just get to talking about stuff. And it's a safe place to do that. So there's a lot of training going on with barbers to teach them mental health first aid skills to where they can, you know, evaluate and assess, communicate, and then connect folks with the resources that they need from a trusted individual. And that reduces some of the pathology connected to it, because it's not a trained mental health professionals doing that is someone that you might trust a little bit more, because they take care of you here. But that's a product that I've seen, that has had some significant success.
Sucheta Kamath: I love that, yes, that means I as a woman are going to miss out on that conversation. We should start this with hair salon, too. That's great. So I do want to as we come to the, to an end of our conversation. Now I do want to talk to you about your role as a diversity officer. And one, I would love to know, what does that entail, particularly when it comes to professionals, wanting to become partners, with minorities, and creating bold workplaces. But also, I feel, I just want to get some insight from you, there is a lot of desire to address it, using a diversity officer. Without changing the culture. I'm sure you will not be that person because you you have deep and wide knowledge. But I feel sometimes systems are much bigger than the individuals recommendations. And a lot of friends of mine who are diversity officers talk about that, that systems feel comfortable. We did something about this, you know, so do you have any thoughts about that?
Steven D. Kniffley, Jr.: Sure. So there's a big difference between throwing a rock in a pool and allowing it to rattle versus stone or rock or frozen pool, and it just bounces off. And so if we imagine what an effective Chief Diversity Officer looks like, in those spaces, it's someone that has the ability to create a ripple within a system that will lead to lasting change. The worry always is that we are creating a whole bunch of rocks that are just going to bounce off of frozen ponds. So we want to create a space where a chief diversity officer is able to have the impact that is needed to address these systems when it comes to racism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism, excetera. So the ways in which we do that, as well, making sure that those folks are supported when it comes to financial resources, personnel and personnel resources, and what the influence and weight of the leadership that they're connected to, because that's indeed how the ripple happens.
Sucheta Kamath: Brilliant. And so how are you enjoying your role as a diversity officer? And do you have some examples for us? What how you think about changing systems are preparing people to be partners to change the system?
Steven D. Kniffley, Jr.: Absolutely. So I've really been enjoying my role here. I've been a diversity consultant for almost 10 years at this point. And it's been an honor to work with the system, more long term that I'm also influenced by and connected to. Some projects that have really been meaningful to me are really working on evaluating what the culture of our system looks like, and providing evidence and assessment support, to give us a baseline as to where we are and where we need to go. Providing and creating spaces for conversation through the book clubs and you know, through dynamics such as that providing training opportunities to learn how we can foster a more inclusive environment as faculty members and staff persons is leadership, etc. And also just making sure to amplify the voices of marginalized folks, by making sure to tell their story and making sure that they have spaces to tell their stories as well, of all places where I've very, very fortunate to offer some impact.
Sucheta Kamath: Well, they're very lucky to have you. And I'm excited to see in what direction you take this work and literally help transform our communities. Before I let you go, I would love to know if you can share with our listeners some of your favorite books, reads that have influenced your mind or have been meaningful to you.
Steven D. Kniffley, Jr.: Sure, I'm trying to think about what those are. The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, has been a really meaningful book for me by Paulo Freire. This book here called No Pity, by Joseph Shapiro, has been admitted full book that talks about disability rights and activism in that area. Black Skin, White Mask, by Franz Fanon has been really helpful. I think those are some initial books that really kind of stand out to me, the initial book that I always recommend to anybody is the Pedagogy of the Oppressed, that that's been a really meaningful books, my own development as a diversity professional.
Sucheta Kamath: Oh, that's brilliant. Thank you. Well, all right. That's all the time we have. Thank you again, Dr. Kniffley, for being our guest here. As you can see, folks, these are very important conversations we're having with highly knowledgeable, incredibly qualified and passionate experts with unique perspective on executive function, but not just in a limited sense for personal growth, but societal change. And that's why here are a few things you can do to promote our message and these valuable conversations. If you love what you're listening to definitely share this episode with your friends and colleagues. If you have a moment, definitely take a moment to write a review. And finally, subscribe to Full PreFrontal using your favorite app. Definitely, that will be a way to not miss an episode. Thanks once again, look forward to seeing you all right here next time on Full PreFrontal.