Speakers address healing from childhood trauma

Taylor Moore
LV Life Editor

Kristi Ambritz, student initiatives, and Adrianne Montero-Camacho, a social worker with the University of La Verne’s student outreach center, hosted a virtual presentation on how students’ adverse childhood experiences might affect their present-day lives and academics.

The Zoom event was a collaboration with the Academic Success Center, with 14 in attendance, including students and University staff.

It opened with this question for the participants: “How many of you are familiar with ACEs?”

Most of them said that they were unfamiliar with the term, which stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences.

Before the term was explained, Ambritz asked that everyone take the ACEs quiz. 

The quiz contained questions on whether the participant had endured traumatic experiences in the past, such as verbal, emotional and/or physical abuse at home or loss of a family member by death or imprisonment.

She did not ask people to share their scores but instead offered comfort for those taking the quiz. 

This might have been the first time they realized that what they endured was not normal.

She explained the term “ACEs” is related to potentially traumatic events from childhood to the age of 17. 

Such events may include violence, at-home abuse, witnessing violence at home or in your community. 

Exposure to substance abuse, or stress from material security, such as food or clothes, may also be triggers, she said.

“I think often in higher ed, we forget about where students are coming from, what their life experiences have been,” Savannah Garcia, ASC director, said.

Ambritz said ACEs could affect brain development, chronic health problems, mental health challenges, and substance misuse. A student with a high ACEs score might have difficulty learning, suffer from academic stress, or experience memory change.

Mental health challenges that can result may include a high risk of depression, anxiety or suicide.

Ambritz shared the following statistics: One in six adults experienced four or more ACEs; at least five of the top 10 leading causes of death are associated with ACEs; preventing ACEs could reduce the number of adults with depression by 44%.

There was a pause since Ambritz and Montero-Camacho wanted to offer the audience a chance to process the heavy information or allow them time to debrief in case they were triggered.

“The hope we are about to share is exciting and freeing,” Ambritz said.

She talked about recovery, specifically epigenetics, which is a science that proves that our genes may heal from the abuse a person experienced previously.

“Getting involved in activities, volunteering where you’re helping others, and getting into counseling is the best thing you can do for yourself,” Ambritz said. 

“If we intentionally start making moves to change our behaviors that are outcomes from our childhood, we can alter our genes.”

She said that it is such a strong change that when the affected person has children, the children will get a new and restored gene that is completely healthy. 

It is possible for everyone, though it may be challenging.

“People walk around thinking (they are) doomed and destined for mental health challenges, but we paused and thought that we need to give people a ray of hope that this isn’t how it needs to be forever,” Montero-Camacho said.

The floor was opened for questions.

Garcia asked how staff should approach helping students whom they suspect to be a victim of ACEs if the students are not coming forward.

Ambritz said that allowing the student to speak confidentially helps them open up and suggested that students should see Montero-Camacho or make an appointment with CAPS. 

Even though it can be a very scary first step, it is the first recommended place for the students to go to.

“The Ed.D. program is embedding healing-centered practices in classes,” said Yvette Latunde, co-director of the Center for Educational Equity and Intercultural Research Professor and Organizational Leadership. “We just assume at this point we all have some healing to do.”

The presentation ended with a list of resources for students who may be struggling.

Resources include, CAPS, caps@laverne.edu; Campus Labs, laverne.campuslabs.com/engage; Student Outreach & Support, sos@laverne.edu; Accessibility Services, accessibilityservices@laverne.edu; Academic Success Center, asc@laverne.edu; Leos Unite, front.desk@laverne.edu.

“We can be a gateway to getting students to better places,” Ambritz said.

Taylor Moore can be reached at taylor.moore@laverne.edu.

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