On Tuesday parents of Jefferson High School students in San Antonio received scary news. There were unconfirmed reports of an active shooter on campus, reports that would later be proven false. But for the hundreds of parents who went to the school, tensions and anxiety were high.
After a breakdown in communication, altercations occurred between parents and police, resulting in several people being detained. For licensed psychologist and trauma expert Jeff Temple, it’s no shock that Uvalde is top of mind during these situations. Temple is also the director of the Center for Violence Prevention at the University of Texas Medical Branch and vice dean of research for the School of Nursing. He spoke with the Texas Standard about trauma that sticks with us. Listen to the story in the player above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.
Texas Standard: There are a few videos out there on social media from that day,and you can see the worry in parent’s faces. Not that that would not be the case when you get a notice of trouble at your kid’s school, but since Uvalde and scrutiny over the police response, it seems everything is elevated – emotions, fear, anxiety. Do you get that same sense?
Jeff Temple: Absolutely. I mean, even watching that video, I can empathize with the parents. And, you know, the trauma, this collective trauma that we experienced with Uvalde, is going to stick with us. One of the things we were able to rely on is that the police had it taken care of, and I think they do and they will. But Uvalde increased our sense of skepticism and fear, and it only exacerbated our trauma.
This happened in San Antonio, just an hour and a half from Uvalde. Of course, these sorts of events have been reported all across the country. But with Uvalde being part of the national conversation about school safety and so close to San Antonio, are feelings especially raw here, or is this something that people are reporting across the country?
You know, I think we’re going to see that the closer we get to the trauma, the larger the effects we’re going to see. We saw this with 9/11 – the closer you were to the epicenter, the higher the trauma. And we see it with school shootings – the closer you are to the trauma, the worse you are from a behavioral and a psychological perspective. Same with Harvey and hurricanes; it’s just the closer you get to the epicenter, the worse you are.
So how are parents and others supposed to deal with that sort of stress, especially if you’re in Texas where, as you were pointing out, it seems like there has been an erosion of trust in law enforcement and authorities’ official handling of these incidents.
I don’t know if there’s an easy answer here. I can give you the academic answer, but I think if I was a parent in the same situation, I would probably look very similar to those parents in San Antonio. We’re all scared, we’re all traumatized. We know, I think, rationally that school is a safe place. And from a practical sense, school is extremely safe and oftentimes the safest place that many of our kids can be at throughout the day. But we have this real fear. And in Texas, that seems to be heightened. We, unfortunately, own some of the worst mass shootings in American history, so all of us Texans are closer to these traumatic situations. So we’re going to continue to be traumatized and afraid. And I think we’re going to see more of this, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better.
I think, too, that there may be some people who may not realize that what happened in Uvalde back in May is affecting them. I wonder if there’s anything that you can say to parents, students, teachers right now. If what happened in Uvalde is affecting them emotionally, what might you say?
Well, I think that’s a really insightful thing to say in the sense that we might not know how bad we had it, because we have to cope and we have to protect ourselves. Sometimes, the best way to protect ourselves is to start the distance and not think about that traumatic event, so we sort of block it out. And then when something like this happens, like with the folks in San Antonio at Jefferson High School, when it’s close to home, that really clicks and it brings it home. So it’s especially scary. And I guess to answer your question, with teachers and parents and students, I would reflect on that and think about how Uvalde affected you and talk to people about it. Talk to your partner about it and your friends, and if it really starts to bother you, seek out help from a psychologist or a mental health professional.