The Institute for Disaster Mental Health (IDMH) at SUNY New Paltz is deepening its collaboration with the Smithsonian, as both Executive Director Amy Nitza and Deputy Director Karla Vermeulen have been appointed Smithsonian Research Associates with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
The appointments cement a growing role for IDMH personnel supporting museum’s staff in their work. This partnership began in 2021, as a diverse team at the was preparing an exhibition and programming commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Knowing that commemorating this event and the surrounding stories, objects, and history could be distressing or traumatic, Nitza and Vermeulen were enlisted to provide a series of trainings about the stress and impact of working with potentially traumatic content, and strategies to help staff manage their reactions.
“It was important that the National Museum of American History administrators were willing to acknowledge the distress that exposure to difficult historical events like 9/11 could have on staff members, as that recognition hasn’t historically been something museum workers could count on,” Vermeulen said. “We’re appreciative of their efforts to support their teams and were honored to be able to contribute to that work in this way.”
Both the museum and the Institute for Disaster Mental Health share a common interest in examining the potential impacts of exposure to traumatic material across a range of disciplines, including education, history, art, culture, science and technology. The impact of this work on museum personnel has historically been overlooked, with unknown consequences on worker well-being and retention, which this collaboration intends to address.
“As we’ve learned through these collaborations, knowledge work and museum work are not inherently traumatic, but working in museums and libraries can expose staff to challenging content and work-based activities that are traumatic,” Nitza said. “Exposure for individuals and teams can be acute, related to a specific encounter, or chronic and cumulative due to repeated exposure to challenging content throughout one’s career.”
Together, staff from the museum and IDMH have continued to explore museum work through a mental health lens.
“As museums continue to educate the public and explore challenging topics of the past, present, and future, which is both a responsibility and a societal need, it’s inherent that these same institutions support their staff and volunteer communities,” said Adam Rozan, director of programs and audience development at the National Museum of American History. “We see this calling in our mission as we work to create a more compassionate future by sharing the complexity of our past. To do so, we support and care for those that do this work. Our partnership with the Institute for Disaster Mental Health (IDMH) is one way that we accomplish this and aid our community in this effort.”
As Research Associates, Nitza and Vermeulen will be positioned to conduct workshops for museum staff and contribute to research, publications and conferences engaging the Smithsonian’s global museum community. Their work with the museum aligns with the broader IDMH mission: Providing professionals and everyday citizens with the positive coping strategies that are effective at preventing trauma-induced stress and other related conditions.
About The Institute for Disaster Mental Health at SUNY New Paltz
The Institute for Disaster Mental Health supports public health practitioners in the U.S. and internationally by providing training, research, consultation and services to advance the field of disaster mental health and trauma response. IDMH also provides educational opportunities for New Paltz students, including a Disaster Studies minor for undergraduates and a Trauma and Disaster Mental Health advanced certificate to support practitioners.
More information at newpaltz.edu/idmh.
Reproduced from New Paltz News.