Undergraduate research focuses on trauma and social injustice - Kendall College of Arts and Sciences

Undergraduate research focuses on trauma and social injustice

Research is not just for graduate school. At The University of Tulsa, undergraduate students can participate in several research projects with TU’s Institute of Trauma, Adversity and Injustice. From projects on the treatment of chronic nightmares to studying the mental health profiles of TU athletes, students work in a multidisciplinary setting to address problems related to violence, trauma and social injustice.

Madisen Doran

Madisen Dorand, a senior psychology and biology major, began researching her freshman year with Women in Recovery, a prison diversion program in Tulsa.  “They learn skills to avoid reoffending, and get a lot of therapy because we know many of these women have been exposed to trauma throughout their lives,” Dorand said.

Women in Recovery reached out to the institute for a program evaluation to assess how many women are reoffending after graduating the program. They also examined how the women’s symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder improved over time. Initially, Dorand was in charge of data entry, but by her senior year, she could run data analyses.

“At many large universities, research is reserved for graduate students,” she explained, “Developing those skills early on gives you a leg up when it comes to internships, applications for jobs, graduate school and for me, medical school.”

Jessica LaPlant, a sophomore psychology and women and gender studies major, discovered her passion working with sexual assault victims. Collaborating with the Tulsa Police, LaPlant assisted on the Time to Report Rape in Community Setting project. She studies Tulsa Police reports on sexual assault with the intention of discovering factors that affect why a person may take longer to report an assault. “What we are finding is that it might take longer than most people think for someone to come forward about sexual assault,” LaPlant said.

Hannah Cole, a senior psychology major, explained that anything — from not understanding what sexual assault is to the level of violence — could influence the time it takes for a victim to come forward. “A huge predictor that has emerged from the literature and in our own data set is whether or not somebody knows the perpetrator,” Cole said.

The institute uncovered the need to educate people on what assault looks like. “It’s not just a stranger in an alley sort of scenario,” Cole said. “They can put a name to what has happened to them and know the resources available to them.”

LaPlant plans to use their findings on campus. “If we can cultivate an environment here at TU that supports people who come forward with sexual assault reports, it will be a lot easier for them to find justice and seek recovery,” she said.

Cole emphasizes the importance of multiple academic disciplines cooperating to address social issues. Both psychology and law school students are designing surveys to study the Tulsa court system. It should answer questions like “do litigates believe they are being treated fairly and do they understand what is going on in court,” Cole explained.

Despite being an impassioned psychology student, Cole knows systemic community problems can only be solved with everyone in the room. “I love research in psychology, but we have to admit we don’t have all the answers,” she said.

By participating in research and combining efforts with other departments, students not only learn graduate-level research but also the benefits of being open to new perspectives. “TITAN is easily the best thing that has happened to me in college,” LaPlant said. “I’ve gotten so much experience that I would have never imagined myself getting as an undergrad.”

Learn more about the Institute for Trauma, Adversity and Injustice here.