New Assistant Professor Brings Social Work Perspective on Racism-Based Trauma

Curtis Davis

Although Curtis Davis’ appointment doesn’t start until August, you’re likely to see the School of Social Work’s newest faculty member on the Gulf Park campus well before the fall 2019 semester begins.

“Unofficially, I’ll be there sooner,” says Davis, an assistant professor who graduates next month with his Ph.D. in social work from Tulane University. “I’ll be doing work throughout the summer.”

His dissertation – “Lifting the Veil:  Considering the Social Worker’s Approach to Racism-Based Trauma in Work with the Incarcerated Person” – will create some immediate opportunities for classroom discussion and, he hopes, a longer-term impact on social work curricula.

“Throughout my career thus far I’ve focused on forensic social work, in particular working with men women and children engulfed in the justice system,” he says. “In that, I’ve focused on trauma and trauma-informed approaches for social work. As I stumbled upon it, I began to question whether racism could be traumatic for certain groups, particularly groups of color. I started to conceptualize racism-based trauma, how to assess it, how we treat it and how we treat each other and clients.

“There’s a question in the definition (of racism-based trauma). The question is, can an experience of racism be traumatic? Scholars engaging with the construct say yes, it can. The definition I offer is from narratives of practicing social workers: the definition is an often unbeknownst and long-lasting response to covert or overt racism, that often is accentuated by locale.

The impacts for social workers, he says, are how to respond as practitioners and how to better educate students.

“I hope to come up with practice axioms or guidebooks to help social workers assess it and treat it. It’s definitely treatment-based and clinical-based. There is going to be a huge pedagogical component. Right now, there’s not a lot of focus on racial discrimination or race and color in the curricula social workers go by. I plan to impact that and make talks of race or racism happen in the classroom in a safe way.”

“One thing I say I’m trying to do with this research is engage in the practice of ‘calling in’ instead of ‘calling out.’ It’s easy to participate in call-out culture and point fingers. I want to call people in and have heartfelt discussions and make an impact and make a change.”

The Tupelo native, who earned his BSW from the University of Mississippi and his MSW from the University of Alabama, has worked primarily in county or state government – in a youth court, as a family protection specialist and as a social worker and investigator – but also as a forensic interviewer at a children’s advocacy center in his hometown.

He’s excited about the move to south Mississippi, the fit with the school and the opportunity to create a give-and-take learning environment.

“I’m definitely more familiar with north Mississippi and central Mississippi, but I’ve become more familiar with coastal Mississippi while living in New Orleans. I think that Hattiesburg and the Gulf Coast are a bit more welcoming. A lot of my identity is tied to my research, so the Gulf Coast and particularly USM and the faculty and everyone there have been really welcoming to my research and ideas. I think that’s where it can flourish.

“I had really good responses to students I talked to on my campus visit. They seemed really intrigued by it and really into having the discussions about race and racism and diversity. The thing that led me to Gulf Park and to USM was that everyone was really organic and really welcoming. It just felt like home.”

“I am just really motivated and interested in working with everyone. I really don’t participate or practice in the idea of a hierarchy. I really am just interested in getting ideas from colleagues and from students as well. I’m ready to teach and learn and work with everyone and make a difference.

“And in giving back to the state of Mississippi. I’m assuming the majority of students will stay in the state. Since Mississippi is home for me, I’m really interested in coming back home with the knowledge and tools I have and sharing them with everyone. Everything I have is everyone else’s resource.”

Details on Curtis Davis radio spot, 5-6 p.m. May 8, WHIV 102.3-FM

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