Faculty Spotlight:

Q&A With One of Our DC Conference Faculty Members

For more than 15 years, Dr. Christine Garcia has worked as a clinical psychologist in counseling centers at Rutgers University, Vassar College, and Princeton University specializing in trauma, cultural competency, and chronic mental illness. Her clinical experience has included extensive work with survivors of sexual trauma including foster children, military veterans, and individuals and families with intergenerational histories of abuse. Dr. Garcia currently serves as Associate Director of the Young Adult and Family Center (YAFC) at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Department of Psychiatry. She also directs and is a curriculum developer and instructor within the YAFC's telemedicine program, Next Mission, which delivers online courses on post-traumatic growth and resiliency to active duty military and returning veterans.

Q: Why was it important for you to become a faculty member for the National Center's Trauma-Informed Sexual Assault Investigation and Adjudication Institute?

A: My dedication and commitment to trauma-informed care and services is extensive, ranging from clinical service delivery, program development, and teaching. Bringing a trauma-informed lens to sexual assault investigation and adjudication is an essential building block to healing (and justice) for those impacted by sexual assault - from complainant, respondent, family, and community-at-large. The ability to work with an esteemed faculty group to develop a state-of-the-art Institute dedicated to bringing a high level of expertise to universities nationwide was an easy choice! My work in the Institute is brought to an ever-higher level due to the collective wisdom, energy, experience, and research that each member brings to the table. Finally, being a part of an esteemed organization such as the National Center is an honor as the Center is known for its commitment to excellence.

Q: Is there something that sets this curriculum apart from others you've seen or participated in? 

A: Because of the interdisciplinary collaboration among a range of diverse faculty with diverse backgrounds and disciplines, we are able to bring a unique curriculum that encompasses the multiple aspects of becoming and "being" trauma-informed. Our "bench" is deep! The complexity of this material is immense.  It requires a complete cultural shift, in many ways. Our diverse professional backgrounds and specializations capture this. We don't teach to just "check off the boxes" but we are committed to giving participants a complete shift in thinking that is essential in truly becoming trauma-informed and impactful in the work people do.

Q: How critical is it for campus officials to understand the neurobiology behind sexual assault, and therefore, the appropriate response they need to have to victims of sexual violence? 

A: Understanding the neurobiology of trauma is the key to understanding the behaviors one often sees in investigations and adjudication. Without a solid understanding of the basics of the neurobiology behind sexual assault, the exact behaviors that one wants to avoid doing when, for example, interviewing a complainant is more likely to occur thus creating potential secondary traumatization. Further, the ways in which complainants behave and express the trauma they experienced will not be understandable to someone who does not understand how trauma can change the way someone acts, thinks, remembers, and thus, behaves in an interview and/or within the campus community. An individual who is experiencing a traumatic reaction, has PTSD, will not act the same way as someone who is not. The pieces of information that investigators are looking for might be there, but they won't know how to interpret it without knowing about the neurobiology behind sexual assault.

Q: Do victims see and feel a difference when interacting with people who are trained in trauma-informed approaches? 

A: Absolutely. The probability for secondary traumatization (that is, a re-traumatizing of the individual due to a non-trauma-informed investigative or adjudication process) decreases significantly. Complainants feel heard, understood, and hopefully, put on the road towards the healing that they need. Even in cases where the findings may not be in the complainants favor, complainants have reported that undergoing a trauma-informed investigation was hugely impactful in their ability to heal. Another important factor to note is the impact that a trauma-informed investigation has on the administrators (i.e., Title IX coordinators, victim advocates, public safety, investigators, adjudicators, etc.). The rates of burnout among staff are lower and rates of vicarious traumatization are minimized.


This project was supported by Grant No. 2013-MU-BX-K011 awarded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance. The Bureau of Justice Assistance is a component of the Office of Justice Programs, which also includes the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the Office for Victims of Crime, and the Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking. Points of view or opinions in this document are those of author and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the US Department of Justice.

National Center for Campus Public Safety Copyright © 2016. All Rights Reserved.