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Giving voice to unheard narratives

Kathryn Kao

August 6, 2019

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Two researchers with ties to the University of Georgia’s College of Education believe that amplifying the voices of underrepresented communities is the key to collective healing during times of disaster and traumatic stress.

Cristalís Capielo Rosario (Ph.D. ’16), an alumna of the department of counseling and human development services, and Elizabeth Bautista Cárdenas (M.Ed. ’18), a doctoral student in the College's counseling psychology program, conducted a study that explores the psychological reactions of diaspora Puerto Ricans—or those living in the United States—who experienced secondary traumatic stress associated with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2017.

“It is important that researchers work with marginalized and oppressed communities and create space in academia so these narratives can be told,” said Bautista Cárdenas. “The narratives of Puerto Rican people have not been represented in the media accurately and the inadequate support of the government has not been acknowledged fully by the government or masses.”

After Hurricane Maria, media coverage—as well as most research—centered around government recovery efforts and the destruction of the island rather than the experiences of mainland Puerto Ricans who were indirectly impacted by the hurricane.

To highlight narratives that were missing from the conversation, Capielo Rosario and Bautista Cárdenas interviewed diaspora Puerto Ricans in Florida and found that they experienced posttraumatic growth both at the individual and community level. While some people were worried about family members on the island, many secondary stress reactions were influenced by the political status and economic crisis in Puerto Rico.

“Traumatic stress can be experienced by those with secondary exposure to traumatic events like natural disasters,” said Capielo Rosario, who currently serves as an assistant professor of counseling and counseling psychology at Arizona State University. “After Hurricane Maria, Puerto Ricans in the United States would often take to social media to speak of their sadness, their desperation to talk to family back home and their desire to help in any way they could.”

Their study aims to better equip mental health professionals with information about secondary traumatic stress as a result of indirect exposure to a disaster, while also highlighting how Puerto Rico’s current sociopolitical status influences the way communities experience stress, coping and posttraumatic growth.

In recognition of their work and promotion of diverse communities, Capielo Rosario and Bautista Cárdenas received the 2019 Outstanding Contribution to Scholarship on Race and Ethnicity Award from Division 17’s Section on Ethnic and Racial Diversity (SERD). The SERD award, which is housed in the American Psychological Association’s Society of Counseling Psychology, honors scholarly contributions that advance the field’s knowledge of people of color, race and ethnicity or racism.

“As researchers, clinicians and individuals in education, it is our responsibility to acknowledge these injustices and use our privilege to help those that have been silenced,” said Bautista Cárdenas, who plans to graduate in 2021. “In doing so, we can acknowledge injustices and create opportunities to speak and advocate for others. It is a great honor to have the voices of our participants be heard and recognized as a contribution to scholarly work.”