Danielle Biss : Creating more inclusive spaces in our communities through conversation and active listening
I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Danielle Biss (she/her/hers) to discuss her role in the San Diego community and I am absolutely thrilled to be able to share with all of you what she is doing to make this world a safer and more inclusive space for survivors.
Danielle, a survivor herself, has an incredibly impressive resume. Currently, she is enrolled in the School of Communication at San Diego State University, where she is completing her master’s degree in organizational communication. She pursues qualitative research on critical organizational communication, sexual violence, disability studies, and social support. She has pursued research projects interviewing confidants of sexual assault disclosures to better understand challenges communicating social support, research on SART advocates and the role of secondary trauma, and her thesis focuses on organizational tensions that restrict access to services for d/Deaf survivors of sexual violence. In the future, she plans to continue her education in pursuit of a Ph.D in communication.
Meeting Danielle was kismet if there ever was one. I am lucky enough to own a restaurant in San Diego and while enjoying a night on the patio, a friend who has been a supporter of SNAFI came over with someone she wanted me to meet. I was so enamored with all that she is doing for survivors, especially survivors in marginalized communities (e.g., women of color, Deaf women, women with intellectual and developmental disabilities, refugee survivors, amongst others), that I knew we were going to connect . Danielle is currently an intern at the Center for Community Solutions (CCS), an anti-violence non-profit organization that provides free and confidential resources to survivors of sexual assault, intimate partner violence, and stalking. In her internship role, she assists in the behind the scenes of creating a space to provide more inclusive and culturally humble services for clients with disabilities, specifically those in the Deaf community and those with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). She is well underway in a 67-hour comprehensive crisis intervention training program.
Danielle and I were able to talk about many things, some good, some bad, and some that sparked thought processes that have changed my perception of what we are doing to make access to resources more inclusive...
What was the spark that ignited your interest in helping survivors?
The combination of personal experience navigating Title IX reporting, conversations with sexual violence researchers, and our political agenda
What lead you down the path to ultimately work in the non profit sector & even more defined ; what drew you to wanting to help a more marginalized group of survivors ?
At SDSU, I am privileged to work with mentors who have a strong background in organizational communication. My advisor Dr. Tiffany Dykstra-DeVette encouraged me to pursue my research on sexual violence to an organiztaional setting as a way to engage with the community. Thus, I sought out partnerships with community resources, like the Center for Community Solutions.
My passion for disability research sparked when I was in undergrad. I was involved in a bad snowboarding accident, leaving me with a broken clavicle. After my experience navigating the stigma of a temporary disability, I began pursuing research that centered disability - mediated representations of disability (e.g., Finding Dory, The Bridge), physical and visual impairments, and Deaf and IDD.
When I was connecting with organizational officials at CCS, the opportunity to unite both my research interests became a possibility as they were pursuing a project on providing better resources to those in the disability community. Ignited with passion and genuine curiosity, I joined the team and love what I do.
What is the Center for Community Solutions and what is your roll there ?
I am currently an intern at the Center for Community Solutions (CCS), an anti-violence non-profit organization, that provides free and confidential resources to survivors of sexual assault, intimate partner violence, and stalking. I serve as an Access to Services Intern, where I assist in the behind the scenes of creating a space to provide working to provide more inclusive and culturally humble access to services for clients with disabilities, specifically those in the Deaf community and those with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). This may include attending collaboration meetings with affiliated organizations, reviewing and assisting in structuring more inclusive policies, facilitating trainings of disability inclusion, amongst others.
Where would you like to see the program you are working on at CCS be in in the future?
I would love to see CCS be able to conduct research on other marginalized communities, such as the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and The Arc of San Diego for people with disabilities, to better understand the intersectional experiences for people, such as newcomers to San Diego who may not be native English speakers with varying disabilities.
What are some tools you have used to cope with your trauma?
Ha! What a question. First, I prioritize self-care. This can be illustrative in my prioritization of my mental health over everything I do. This summer, I rescued two fur babies who are now my emotional support kitties - Brulee, a 1 year old domestic short hair, and Finn, a 3 month old ragdoll kitty. When I have time, I love going on hikes, exploring new places, and doing things that make me happy - such as drinking good red wine with friends and spending time with the people that I love. Recently, I learned of the community resilience model (CRM) for coping skills - tracking, resourcing, and grounding. Tracking helps me focus on parts of my body and the sensations - what am I sensing in my body in this moment? Resourcing helps me think of a place/object (such as my kitties) and when focusing on them for 15 seconds - for instance - I became a bit more calm. Grounding helps me take the time to center myself and take deep breaths. A lot of different techniques can be found online, too.
You have done a lot of work on “secondary trauma”... will you explain more of what this means, and your work in that area of recovery ?
Secondary trauma is an academic term that refers to the trauma we face as supporters or researchers of sexual violence once bearing witness to a traumatic event. For example, in my reseaerch project interviewing confidants of sexual assault disclosures, I embodied a lot of secondary trauma hearing the stories of suppporters who helps survivors of child molestation, intimate partner violence, acquaintence rape, and other forms of sexual violence. The pain I felt was not the same as the survivor’s experience; yet, I have come to understand it as stemming from it, but its own form of pain.
We spoke on the need for all sexual assault survivors to “feel seen” can you elaborate on what this means to you, and the future of CCS and all centers for sexual trauma victims?
“Feeling seen” to me is an understanding where each victim/survivor of sexual violence doesn’t have to hesitate sharing their traumatic experience and fearing that it could be second guessed from others. For example, cisgender men may question whether if they did not consent to sex was actually a form of rape, and question whether their gender restricts their ability to consent or not consent to sex. Survivors with disabilities may face barriers seeking out services, as providers and supporters may focus on their disability rather than their traumatic experience. Survivors of color face racial barriers when sharing their story with others; cultural trauma permeates in some marginalized communities, making some survivors of color feel that their story could be invalidated or could fail to recognize how their experience of non-consenual sex was rape, too. Undocumented survivors may fear in reporting their intimate partner violence in fear of deportation of themselves and their family, thus can remain suppresed to share their experiences. Ultimately, in a perfect world, I would end sexual violence, but in the world we live in, I strive to help create a space where everyone’s story feels valid and included and access to mental health resources, legal resources, and other necessities are accessible to all people.
What are your future plans ? Where would you like to see yourself in the world of non profit or teaching ?
In the next few years, I plan to pursue my PhD in communication, focusing specifically on critical organization communication, sexual violence, and disability studies. After obtaining my PhD, I plan to become a professor who dips their feet in both the nonprofit sector and academia - this could be through parterning with community organizations that I am near, such as a rape crisis center near my doctoral institution.
BELOW YOU WILL FIND DANIELLE’S PAPER ON SECONDARY TRAUMA