Very rarely do science, journalism and social justice overlap. Today, however, was one of those days.
Elana Newman from Tulsa University was our guest speaker in Reporting on Traumatic Events today. After a few botched Skype tries, we finally were able to connect via speakerphone and emailed Powerpoint slides. And then the magic started.
If you have read any of my previous journalism-centric posts, you know that I am a huge nerd. I came into j-school not wanted anything to do with business or science journalism, and now I’ve taken to it like a (ever-questioning) fish to water. I even got a job blogging for a physicians agency (Yes, you heard right: I’m employed. Commence dance party.)
Newman spoke about her research at TU and research in the field of clinical psychology. There is budding research that shows certain genes — specifically a short/short homozygous allele pair — make people more likely to have a major depressive episode following a traumatic event.
I’ll write that again: there is genetic proof that some people are more prone to depression and poor trauma coping. How cool is that? Not in the sense that poor coping skills are good or should be celebrated, but that there are biological and chemical markers.
Adults who had adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, had significantly less brain development, especially in their frontal lobes. Trauma also has a lasting effect on physical health: increased chance of chronic diseases and decreased preventative care.
It’s amazing, really, how strange and beautiful and mysterious our brains are. All of these chemical reactions firing in between neurons decide our life paths: whether or not we’re going to buckle our seat belts, if we smile at strangers, how we deal with phobias.
We got into the topic of victim blaming and media coverage of trauma, especially the Farrow-Allen case. I was chomping at the bit (surprise), because I have such strong opinions (surprise, part two). One things Katherine brought up it the fact that people do, in fact, lie, and allegations can be completely fabricated. I know this, but there are definitely mixed emotions. I spoke up, haltingly, trying to put my words in the right order. Something along the lines of
There is a fine, nearly imperceptible line between questioning the truth value of a victim’s statement and blaming the victim. People do the latter when they think they’re doing the former. Victim blaming is surrounded by a culture of shame, which makes true victims afraid to tell their stories. It also makes non-victims more likely to invent allegations because they see the media and the 15 minutes of fame.
came out. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I do remember Newman saying “That was beautifully put,” and feeling my heart leap.
There is something about validating that what you love to do is what you should do. That seems so pompous, looking back, but it’s entirely true.
The world can suck. A lot. Athletes and celebrities get off with slaps on the wrists for accusations with felony weight. Adults and children alike have violence committed against them on a daily basis with no foreseeable glimmer of hope.
But the world can also be great. It can be filled with victims who don’t want to be victims any longer and step into the position of activist. It is victims who are finally not afraid to be alone, not afraid to be in crowds of people. It is a public educating itself and fellow humans on violence, recovery and the true resilience of the human spirit.
Another A+ day of journalism.