Dawn Haney

Dawn Haney
Operations Director
dawn[at]humanimpact.org

Dawn Haney joined the Human Impact Partners team in January 2014, bringing together her passions for social justice, health equity, and good nonprofit management in her role as Operations Director. Since earning her Master’s degree in Health Promotion & Behavior from the University of Georgia, she’s worked the last 8 years helping small nonprofits make a big impact through her expertise in program development, administration, and managing human and financial resources. Prior to joining HIP, she co-led the Buddhist Peace Fellowship in navigating a 2-year rebuilding process, strengthening their financial health while building media and training programs that focused on systemic causes of violence, climate change, and inequality. Previously, during her three-year tenure as Executive Director of a rural rape crisis center, she achieved ambitious fundraising goals to expand services to survivors and developed a new community organizing program focused on building power in immigrant communities to resist sexual violence. While finishing graduate school, she served as a Public Health Research Fellow at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, working on evaluation projects with WISEWOMAN, a chronic disease screening and education program for uninsured and underinsured women.

Addressing Race & Power to Advance Health Equity: An Infographic

As HIP works with more community partners and public health departments to advance health equity, we’re looking for new ways to talk with folks about what we mean by equity.

This Equity Infographic contains user-friendly, visual content to share with organizations or individuals who may be less familiar with the term.

Content in the infographic is from HIP Co-Director Jonathan Heller’s article, “If we want to advance equity in public health practice, we must address race and power.” The infographic was designed by UC Berkeley School of Public Health Center for Health Leadership consultants Billy Luong, Briana Levin, and Carlos Cerda using Paper by FiftyThree.

Accommodating Trauma: Intended & Unintended Effects of an Unusual Legal Strategy

A group of high school students and teachers in Compton, California are taking their school district to court, claiming their schools are legally required to accommodate the ways that chronic poverty, abuse, and neglect affect their learning.

Surprisingly, they are using special education law in the American with Disabilities Act and the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, which specifically requires schools to serve students with physical and mental impairments.

Does trauma affect learning? In short, yes.

HIP reviewed the literature as part of our 2014 study of California’s change to finance education via the Local Control Funding Formula. We found that Adverse Childhood Experiences – such as abuse, neglect, exposure to violence, or living in a household with mental illness or an incarcerated family member – are an obstacle to learning and achievement in school. These experiences affect students’ concentration, absenteeism, aggression, and mental health. Children with multiple Adverse Childhood Experiences (often called ACEs) are more likely than their peers to abuse drugs and alcohol and to drop out of school before graduation.

For schools that want to support their students’ success, our top recommendation was to expand programs that address the trauma and stress of Adverse Childhood Experiences, such as School-Based Mental Health Programs and Services. You can read more detail in our full report, “When Health is the Root Cause of Poor Education Outcomes.”

The five high school students and three teachers who have brought forth the lawsuit are going beyond making recommendations. They are insisting that schools that don’t accommodate trauma are engaging in unlawful discrimination. The students’ trauma is complex; hearing their stories makes me wonder how anyone could even show up to school, much less excel, under their life circumstances:

“Peter grew up with physical and sexual abuse, lived in foster homes, and has witnessed more than 20 people get shot. In March and April, he slept on the roof of the high school because he was homeless. When he was discovered, he was suspended.

While trauma’s effect on student learning is clear, does disability law offer a promising legal avenue for students affected by complex trauma?

Some advocates for youth have expressed concern about the legal strategy. As Louise Godbold writes,

“We must be careful that trauma, this rage and numbness that is (as Bessel van der Kolk says in “The Body Keeps the Score”) ‘honestly come by’, does not become another label to stigmatize and to point blame at some perceived defect in the students, or worse still, a whole community.”

The legal system is an imperfect system for guaranteeing rights, in that it requires one to be characterized as different in order to receive support. Seeking legal remedy for rights that have been denied can appear to have an inherent tendency toward pathologizing or otherizing people. This very case, as made by the attorneys at Public Counsel, relies on stereotypes of Compton as a bad neighborhood. Were these students approached to participate in the lawsuit because they – and their entire community – are easy to pathologize?

Yet the history of the ADA and other civil rights legislation shows that the legislation doesn’t create stigma, so much as name stigma so that it can be remedied. When the discrimination is systemic – like with people with disabilities and students in Compton – civil rights legislation can shift the conversation from a focus on individual to a focus on the systems that disadvantage them. As my wheelchair-riding friend Patty Berne pointedly asks, “Is the problem with our bodies that need wheelchairs or with the buildings that only have stairs?”

The ADA has moved the focus toward building ramps and installing elevators, important changes to the built environment that help not only people with disabilities, but all of us. Who hasn’t been grateful to not be daunted by a flight of stairs when you are pushing your kid in a stroller or just carrying too many groceries home?

I get the sentiment in Godbold’s article that disability is often over-medicalized. Framing complex trauma as disability could lead toward fixing trauma only with a medical model (pills and maybe some meditation to cope better with stress) rather than a focus on changing the conditions that create trauma in the first place. But I also hear an undercurrent of concern that “disability” is a particularly worrisome label for kids with trauma, and I worry that the critique of this legal strategy stems from ableist attitudes rather than an assessment of whether this would serve students.

When discrimination is systemic – running more deeply than any one school district – who is responsible for remedying the problem? This particular lawsuit pins the blame on Compton Unified School District, an already under-resourced school district. Should the focus instead be increased state funding – already boosted via LCFF for foster children, low-income kids, and English learners – so schools can better support students with significant trauma? Or should efforts be directed toward undoing legislation like Proposition 13, which has been a stranglehold on education funding?

We’ll be watching this case — and its intended and unintended impacts on education justice — closely.