Interdisciplinary Panel Examines Trauma

Stacey Stein

The Lampert Institute for Civic and Global Affairs hosted a panel in Lawrence Hall to showcase three different perspectives on trauma on February 20. The idea of trauma was chosen to go alone with the Lampert Institute’s theme of healthcare for the year. Professor of Pyschology Catherine Bagwell, Associate Professor of History Alan Cooper and Visiting Professor in English & Africana and Latin American Studies Max Rayneard all presented on trauma from their respective fields.

According to Cooper, instead of bringing in guest professors, Professor of Philosophy David McCabe, head of the Lampert Institute wanted to use Colgate professors so that conversation could continue even after the presentation.

Bagwell started off the presentation by defining trauma from the perspective of clinical psychology. She particularly emphasized the change in the definition of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the most recent edition of “The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).”

“One of the most significant changes is to group together disorders that are related to trauma,” Bagwell said. “Prior to this version of DSM, PTSD was associated with all the other anxiety disorders. The former idea was that PTSD at its core was an anxiety disorder.”

Bagwell went on to clarify that PTSA can be different for everybody, and for some, it can seem more like depression, others anger, and others anxiety.

“I think I had two tasks,” Bagwell said. “One was to introduce the idea of trauma from a psychological perspective, so how psychologists might think about it. My second goal was to try to tie together a little bit about what Rayneard and Cooper were talking about and kind of see if there were themes that were consistent and ways that psychology could inform things that they’re doing and also ways that what they’re doing can inform psychology.”

Next, Cooper showed a brief film about William Fitzosbern, a man who lived in Medieval England who Cooper believes displayed symptoms of PTSD. Cooper explored the question of whether trauma and a psychological disorder can be used as a historical tool.

“The idea of making comparisons across time is something that historians quite understandably resist,” Cooper said. “What I was trying to do was set up some of those problems and justify myself.”

In the end of this discussion, Professor Rayneard talked about his interest in the stigma of trauma as well as the “Telling Project,” a project he has started in which U.S. military soldiers perform their experiences.

“People need to know about the experiences of U.S. military veterans,” Rayneard said. “Their lives and experiences are too often thought about as the lives and experiences of other people somewhere else.”

Rayneard hoped to expose others to the stories of these veterans, sharing one particular experiences of a Navajo man who had fought follwing a series of traumatic experiences as in his youth.

“Civilians need to learn to listen open-heartedly, without imposing their politics or assuming they understand from the calm of their own existences. We can live in ignorance, in the ‘bubble’ as the term here at Colgate gets used, but that is to live in a kind of false consciousness. Veterans don’t live ‘bubbled’ lives, and we owe it to them and ourselves to learn from them if they are willing to speak,” Rayneard said.

According to first-year Caitlin Gilligan, who attended the presentation, she felt that she learned a great deal, and hearing about The Telling Project was very interesting.

“Two things stuck out to me: the existence of an unknown history of PTSD and the sometimes false assumption that soldiers come from a great place and are sent to a bad place.There is no way to know who suffered from PTSD before the twentieth century, and if we could know, I’m sure history would be viewed differently in some

circumstances,” Gilligan said.

The professors were pleased with the turnout and outcome of the panel. According to Cooper, who particularly enjoyed the Q & A session, he has received emails with feedback since the panel.

“Basically what McCabe was trying to put together in the first place is happening, and I think the conversations will keep going,” Cooper said.

Rayneard also enjoyed the question and answer session following the panel.

“It was really gratifying to see that people were so actively engaged and passionately invested in the questions the panel raised,” Rayneard said.

Bagwell appreciated the chance to collaborate with the other professors.

“We were all really happy with it,” Bagwell said. “It was a really fun experience to be able to work with other Colgate faculty on something like this and to showcase the research that faculty on campus are doing and to see the links across disciplinary boundaries in terms of this particular topic.”

            Contact Stacey Stein at [email protected]