Kristin Baird Rattini | July 16, 2019
How do you represent resilience? Is it Rosie the Riveter, her bicep flexed? Is it a diamond, one of the hardest substances on Earth? Or does resilience resemble hope, which Emily Dickinson described as “the thing with feathers”?
Laura Miller-Graff ’08 takes her inspiration from a butterfly. Its wings form the initial letter in the name of her BRAVE Research Lab — the acronym stands for Building Resilience After Violence Exposure. “You can measure resilience in a lot of ways that sound scientific and dry,” the Notre Dame assistant professor of psychology and peace studies says. “But when you see resilience in action in people, it is amazing to observe. We in the lab wanted our logo to be a representation of that. For us, the butterfly is a hopeful symbol — one that represents a positive future for women and children who are resilient in the face of very significant challenges.”
In abusive, low-income households in South Bend and the strife-torn streets of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Miller-Graff studies the developmental effects of repeated exposure to violence in childhood. The well-documented combination of cognitive, emotional and behavioral impacts starts in the womb and can reverberate throughout a child’s lifetime. By identifying often-overlooked strengths, acknowledging cultural influences and recognizing the resource limitations that these families face, Miller-Graff designs treatments to foster resilience — an individual’s capacity to adapt to serious adversity — and to mitigate, if not prevent, these harmful effects.
The concept of resilience in the guise of “grit” has enjoyed its 15 minutes of fame in recent years. Bestselling books and top-viewed TED Talks have trumpeted grit as the key ingredient to success in school, life and the workplace. Miller-Graff, along with some of her peers in psychology, takes issue with that pop-culture perception.
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