When it comes to collaborating with students and supporting their academic aspirations, Assistant Professor of Psychology Brittany Hollis has one priority in mind.
“I want them to feel empowered,” she says. “I hope the students that I get the privilege to mentor and to work with know that they are supported and that someone believes in them.”
Support and empowerment are at the heart of her mentorship, pedagogy, and research, and the impact she hopes to make through each.
“My research looks at what we call power-based interpersonal violence. This includes things like sexual violence, dating violence, and stalking,” says Hollis. “My work so far has really looked at the prevention of sexual violence and also the treatment or our response to someone coming forward with a case of sexual violence.”
Hollis received both her B.S. and Ph.D. from Old Dominion University, in Norfolk, Virginia, where many of her classmates were veterans because Norfolk is also home to the largest Naval base in the United States.
A lot of prevention programs have started on college campuses and they've been modified for different communities... I think it can begin in academia because we have the resources. We have the time to do the research, and we can get college students excited and involved. —Assistant Professor of Psychology Brittany Hollis
“I had a couple of female veteran friends who told me stories of sexual assaults that they had experienced either while they were in the military or before. It made me so sad and so angry, but also so passionate to change things,” she says. “I know that I want to try to prevent sexual assault and other forms of violence as much as possible, but also to make sure that response is trauma-informed.”
According to Hollis, even when individuals do come forward to report a sexual assault, they risk being retraumatized while receiving medical care or during the judicial process. Trauma-informed care can mitigate this risk.
“It means that we approach everyone as if they have experienced some type of trauma in their lives,” says Hollis.
During her post-doctoral research fellowship at the Veterans Health Administration in Pittsburgh, she developed an education program to help providers administer trauma-informed, patient-centric care.
“This looks different depending on the area. In gynecology, it could mean making sure that we are talking to our patients, we are getting consent before we do any kind of physical touching or exams,” says Hollis. “We give them power in their healthcare. It not only helps to prevent patients from being retraumatized, it also leads to better medication adherence. It leads to patients coming back to their appointments and to their follow-ups. It leads to so many better outcomes.”
Hollis believes that higher education and academia play a critical role in helping to change the way society addresses sexual assault, not only by fostering supportive environments for those who come forward to report their experiences but by designing and modeling effective prevention strategies.
“A lot of prevention programs have started on college campuses and they've been modified for different communities like the veteran community or for high schools and middle schools,” she says. “I think it can begin in academia because we have the resources. We have the time to do the research, and we can get college students excited and involved.”
Sharing her passions with students and motivating them to help create positive change on campus is one of the things she’s most excited about as a new member of the St. Lawrence community. As she starts to engage key stakeholders across the University to identify their needs and collaborate on strategies that foster a safer, more informed community for everyone, student outreach and involvement are priorities.
“As my research progresses, before any kind of implementation, I want to make sure that I talk to all stakeholders. I’m trying to make sure I incorporate everyone,” says Hollis. “I’ve talked with the president and vice president of the Advocates [St. Lawrence’s peer-to-peer support system for those impacted by sexual assault]. This semester, I'm teaching a class in stress and resilience and they're actually going to come and give a short presentation to the class.”
It's important to me that we help students understand that mental health is just like physical health. There should be no stigma around getting help or having any kind of mental illness or mental health concern. It’s actually very courageous to get help when we need it. —Assistant Professor of Psychology Brittany Hollis
Hollis’ Stress and Resilience class is one of her favorite courses to teach because of how seamlessly it incorporates her research interests. This semester, she and her students are having conversations and producing resources with the goal of empowering and informing the entire University community.
“In the last part of the course, we’ll talk about treatment and we get a look at how we can try to be trauma-informed. How we as a society, not just as individuals, can show up for survivors. How we can make sure that we’re listening and that we are giving people what they need, not just what we think that they need.” says Hollis. “For their final project, my students are creating a pamphlet of information on stress and trauma, and then we're actually going to have them available to people in the health center.”
Hollis acknowledges that some of these conversations can be heavy, which is why she doesn’t just talk about being trauma-informed, she models it in her approach to teaching.
“When we are talking about trauma, I try to make sure that I'm also giving the students resources. We incorporate mindfulness into the class as well,” she says. “It's important to me that we help students understand that mental health is just like physical health. There should be no stigma around getting help or having any kind of mental illness or mental health concern. It’s actually very courageous to get help when we need it.”