By Callie Fausey, Santa Barbara Independent
Spaces for Black students’ healing and affirmation in Santa Barbara Unified high schools are to become as accessible as school lunch in the next school year. Counseling to address racial trauma will be supplemented with healthy coping strategies and preventive services, all provided through collaboration with the Healing Space clinic at UC Santa Barbara.
“We want to encourage prevention around mental health distress, or prevention of loneliness and isolation, and demonstrate through our clinicians’ own lived experiences how to talk about racial identity and what it means to be a Black youth growing up in Santa Barbara” said Dr. Alison Cerezo, director of the Healing Space.
Regularly held youth workshops and “healing circles” to address race-based stress and wellness will be held alongside individualized, direct therapy services already available to support the district’s students of color and respond to incidents of racialized bullying.
Celebratory cultural events, for example, will take place during lunchtimes to give Black clinicians and students a chance to break bread together, learn how to cope with stress or trauma, and build an “internal community,” according to Assistant Superintendent ShaKenya Edison. She said they’ll also be “working to build capacity” in the district’s administrators to “understand what racial trauma is and be able to identify the impacts of it.” As they work toward prevention, that includes training school leadership to understand the impact that anti-Black racism has on academics and the social wellbeing of Black youth.
The partnership between the school district and the Healing Space — a community-serving training clinic under UCSB’s Counseling, Clinical & School Psychology Department — goes hand in hand with the district’s long-term goals to address the normalized culture of racism brought to light earlier this year by its Anti-Blackness and Racial Climate Assessment.
Coming together to process what it is like to be a Black community member in Santa Barbara can take many different forms, Cerezo said. “We, of course, want to be available to families after a traumatic event has happened. But I also want our Black clinicians to be able to experience Black joy with clients, not just the processing of trauma.”
Following the summer of 2020, when the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless other Black Americans were receiving nationwide attention, UCSB psychology students “asked [the department] to do more and do better,” Cerezo said. Healing Justice Santa Barbara and the Towbes Foundation approached the department to build a specialty clinic composed of Black clinicians to offer therapy services to Black clients in the area. Healing Justice then helped bridge the connection between Santa Barbara Unified and the clinic to expand its services to the district’s students and families.
Gaby Hinojosa, a school practicum student in UCSB’s Psychology Department and student clinician with the Healing Space, has already been working with Black students at San Marcos High School through the school’s Black Student Union. “I’ve created a safe space for the small community of Black students at San Marcos, to heal, to spread laughter and joy, and it’s been beautiful seeing how much they grow in these spaces,” she said at the school board’s April 11 meeting, where the Healing Space’s services were first formally introduced for partnership.
Edison said the district has work to do to ensure Black students are “known by name, face, and story on each of our campuses,” as well as equip staff to identify signs when any student is in emotional distress. “Every adult will play a part in making sure that campuses are, you know, physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially safe.”