Addressing the Community Trauma of Inequity Holistically: The Head and The Heart Behind Structural Interventions

58 Pages Posted: 12 Mar 2021 Last revised: 9 Jun 2022

Date Written: January 6, 2021


Childhood trauma — or toxic stress — presents potential lifelong consequences on health and well-being and on family and neighborhood stability. The consequences of childhood trauma are grave, but recent research highlights the value of early intervention in addressing childhood trauma. As a result, calls for trauma-informed practices and programs have grown. Moving beyond individualized approaches, research increasingly looks to address a community’s ability to prevent or mitigate trauma. But more broadly, what if the community itself is a victim of trauma? How do communities dealing with the chronic stresses of intergenerational poverty, discrimination, and violence heal? Are there interventions that might help?

This Article explores this systemic “community trauma,” using cities as examples to illustrate the complex issues involved and the potential trauma-informed, comprehensive interventions available. Specifically, this Article focuses on structural reforms that address the root causes of trauma. I will discuss the effect of trauma on the following systems: health, education, housing, criminal justice, wealth, and employment. These systems are strong candidates for intervention. I then propose next steps to address community trauma across systems. But while this Article discusses discrete policy issues, it ultimately argues that community trauma requires broad solutions. These solutions are grounded in social policies. I call this side the “head” of treating community trauma.

Beyond this, however, achieving holistic justice via unified action requires community unity, a recognition of the value and dignity in the whole that is greater than self. I call this side the “heart” of treating community trauma. This Article calls for a re-envisioned way of effective structural policy reform, one driven by greater appreciation of the need for civic engagement and community building versus sole reliance on appeals to an idealized, “rational” policy solution. Drawing on literature from across fields (e.g., public health, political philosophy, behavioral economics), this Article seeks to build the case for a transdisciplinary, iterative, and fundamentally interpersonal approach to address complex, intersectoral, inequity-driving, and inequity-maintaining problems for healthier community development. Thus, in addition to the substantive goals, this Article also explores capacity-building approaches to community development to rethink how to remedy systemic inequity, the “trauma” that haunts many of our communities. In sum it takes the “head” and the “heart”—the whole community.

Suggested Citation

Campbell, Amy T., Addressing the Community Trauma of Inequity Holistically: The Head and The Heart Behind Structural Interventions (January 6, 2021). 98 DENV. L. REV. 1 (2021), Available at SSRN:

Amy T. Campbell (Contact Author)

UIC Law ( email )

300 S. State Street
Chicago, IL 60604
United States
3122122803 (Phone)

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