Update on Dismantling Systemic White Supremacy Resources and Work
Update on Dismantling Systemic White Supremacy Resources and Work
The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk book cover

Last month the Fieldstaff team shared that one of the books we are reading as part of our study on dismantling systemic white supremacy is The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by internationally known researcher and clinician, Bessel van der Kolk. One of our newsletter readers reached back to let us know that there have been questions about van der Kolk’s treatment of staff. We thank this reader for sharing information and being in touch. 

From this reader (and a subsequent search of the Boston Globe) we learned that in the spring of 2018 van der Kolk was fired from his position at the Trauma Center he founded.  He was accused of bullying employees. Van der Kolk denies these charges. A lawsuit was filed and quickly settled. Due to the quick settlement and silence after the initial charges, it is hard to know what really happened. But it does make us wonder. 

This is not the first time (and it will not be the last time) a well-regarded individual has been accused of harming others. Sometimes we know more facts than this, sometimes we know less. Always it is hard to know what to do. Some people say that it is fine to use materials from people accused of harming others as long as royalties are not involved. Others disagree. Some say use depends on the degree and type of harm caused. Others disagree. Some say an accusation is just that, an accusation, not a conviction. In this instance, it is doubly confusing that van der Kolk, who has done so much to academically advance the field of trauma studies is now accused of traumatizing his staff. As a staff team we had already purchased his work, so we have chosen to continue to read his work and to discuss his work and the information we now have about the accusations against him, together. 

As we read and discuss we will use these questions to help us: 

What has been the impact of this material/information on you?

What was the most challenging part of this material/information for you?

What are the three most important things you will remember from this work/information?

What about this material/information do you want to share with our congregations?

What did you learn about a social identity(ies) other than your own?

Thanks again to the reader who reached back. We had a rich conversation about the challenges of these times and the importance of sharing and listening to all the stories as we make our way in a world in need of transparency, communication, and accountability.

For more information contact midamerica@uua.org.

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