Abstract: Constantly Under Attack: Racial Healing Circles and the Process of Healing (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Constantly Under Attack: Racial Healing Circles and the Process of Healing

Saturday, January 14, 2023
Valley of the Sun A, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Jessica Ramirez, MSW, MPH, Doctoral Candidate, University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Background and Purpose

Tremendous efforts have been made in the field of mental health. For example, teletherapy has allowed for therapeutic services to be more accessible (Rosen et al., 2020) and interventions particularly in social work, have shifted to center cultural humility in an attempt to be more culturally informed and aware (Fisher-Borne et al., 2015). Despite these improvements in services, critical components remain absent. Addressing and challenging systems of oppression like white supremacy are oftentimes missing from such interventions even though literature has shown these systems to have detrimental health outcomes (Williams & Chung, 2004; Williams, Lawrence & Davis, 2019). This is a critical turning point for the well-being of Students of Color who constantly face oppression and trauma in and out of educational settings (Orfield et al., 2014; Laura, 2014; Morris, 2016). Furthermore, discussions on how such interventions are culturally sustaining (Paris & Alim, 2017) and how these interventions encompass a healing-centered approach (Ginwright, 2018) are widely absent from the literature.

To fill these critical gaps, I used a holistic approach to health to understand how healing centered and culturally sustaining frameworks, like healing circles, impact the mental well-being of Students of Color. Three aims were used to guide this study: 1) To highlight how racial healing circles impact the well-being of Students of Color; 2) To understand what strategies and/or practices of healing can be used in educational settings; 3) Discuss the methodological implications of co-designing mental health interventions, such as healing circles.


Seven in-depth, semi-structured interviews and several weekly co-designed focus groups (i.e. healing circles) were conducted with Students of Color from two separate groups. Participants were recruited from a Black-led organization dedicated to social justice and well-being of Youth of Color, and a graduate student support group from a university in the Pacific Northwest. Participants education level ranged from high school to graduate school. All data collection for this project was conducted online via Zoom. In-depth interviews were transcribed and coded using qualitative software.


Data analysis suggest in/formal healing circles aid in the process of healing for Students of Color by; 1) having a space (virtual and/or physical) to check in and discuss topics related to racial trauma, healing and/or other systems of oppression, 2) having a space where one feels validated and supported, 3) learning, listening, and growing with one another. Findings also suggest that co-designing spaces with Students of Color are impactful and can encourage agency to create social change in and out of educational settings.

Conclusions and Implications

This study highlights the importance and impact of utilizing healing circles among Students of Color to process and navigate trauma inflicted by systems of oppression. Co-designing healing spaces and projects alongside Students of Color demonstrate to students that their insights and lived experiences are valuable and must be taken into consideration. Ultimately, this project informs how various fields including, but not limited to, social work, education, and public health can better holistically support Students of Color in and out of educational settings.