244: Trauma Dumping in Grad Admissions Essays

244: Trauma Dumping in Grad Admissions Essays


In this episode, I discuss the tricky topic of trauma dumping in grad admissions essays and how to approach sharing deeply personal experiences, and even traumas, in your applications. I focus on the concept of “trauma dumping” and offer guidance on how to share impactful experiences without causing harm to oneself or others, emphasizing that trauma doesn’t need to be disclosed to write a compelling and powerful application essay.

Here’s a link to an article I mentioned on the show on “Different Types of Trauma: Small ‘t’ versus Large ‘T’.”

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244: Trauma Dumping in Grad Admissions Essays


Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: [00:00:00] Welcome to the top rated and award nominated Grad School Femtoring Podcast, the place for first gen BIPOCs to learn about all things grad school, personal development, and sustainable productivity. This is Doctora Yvette Martinez Vu, and I will be serving as your Femtor, providing you with tips and tricks and everything else you need to know to successfully navigate grad school and beyond.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: For over 13 years, I've been empowering first gen students of color along their academic and professional journeys, and I'm really excited to support you too.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Doctora Yvette here. Before starting today's episode, I want to announce that my co authored book, Is Grad School for Me? Demystifying the Application Process for First Gen BIPOC Students, is available for pre order. [00:01:00] It officially comes out on April 16th, and between now and the rest of the year, my co author and I are available to speak at your next event.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: We are excited because this is the first book that provides first generation, low income, and non traditional students of color with insider knowledge on how to consider and navigate grad school. It's the book that we both wish we had when we were undertaking our own grad admissions process at UCLA many years ago.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: The book is both a corrective and a calling card to the lack of clear guidance for historically excluded students navigating the onerous and often overwhelming process of applying to grad school. We walk you through the process from first asking yourself whether grad school is even the right next step for you, to then providing you with step by step instructions on how to maneuver every aspect of the grad admissions process, including providing you with sample essays, [00:02:00] templates, and relatable scenarios.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: If you're interested, we encourage you to pre order your copy today or have your local library order a copy. You can also reach out to us for bulk order discount codes. Lastly, we are available for book talks, workshops, keynotes, panels, and even book club visitations. Go to www. gradschoolfemtoring. com slash book to learn more.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Welcome back everyone to another episode of the Grad School Femtoring Podcast. This is your host, Dr. Yvette. Today's episode is about trauma dumping in grad admissions essays. I'm actually quite surprised that I haven't covered this topic because it has come up time and time again in the over a decade that I've been supporting people with successfully applying to graduate school.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: It has been coming up recently because a good portion of my clients [00:03:00] are undergraduates who are applying to graduate school. Their programs have hired me to support them with that process. You know, I also work with graduate students, professors, working professionals, but primarily with The undergrad clients, they are working on their application essays, they're working on their statement of purpose and personal statement, and this common stuck point or pain point or thing that causes writer's block is feeling like I don't want a trauma dump in my essay.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: It feels icky. I don't want to do it. It almost feels like I have to do it. How do I work around this? That's what I hear a lot often from most people is they get stuck with this idea of if I want to share more about myself and my backstory, then I'm obligated to overshare or share things that I'm not comfortable sharing.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: And that is not necessarily true. So, let's start with what am I talking about when I'm saying trauma [00:04:00] dumping. When I'm referring to trauma dumping, I'm referring to the phrase that, while it's not a clinical term, is often tossed around to refer to us oversharing details of our traumatic experiences onto others without any regard for its impact.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: And I will admit that, you know what, I am someone who sometimes overshares. But there's a difference between oversharing as a means of storytelling, as a means of connecting with others, and from a place of having healed or processed these experiences versus sharing from a place of fear, discomfort, rawness, and feeling like It's still a very, very sensitive topic for you.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: And so if you are struggling with this process of working on your grad school application [00:05:00] essays and you've specifically been thinking about this, uh, I don't want a trauma dump, this episode is for you. Before I go into the considerations of what you should and shouldn't share in your application essays, I want to talk about the word trauma itself.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: When I'm talking about trauma, I want to remind you that I'm referring to different types of trauma. In the psychology world, there's what some people call big T trauma and little t trauma. If you want to learn more about the differences between these two types of trauma, I highly recommend you check out an article on Psychology Today by Licensed Psychologist and Counselor, Dr.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Alyssa Barbara. In that article, she talks about different types of trauma. Small T versus big T. For big T trauma, it's things like abuse, disaster, or any situation where you feel like your life or your bodily integrity is threatened. Little t trauma [00:06:00] are things that may not necessarily cause major distress, but after an accumulation of them, can negatively impact you and while they may not be as pronounced, it's like I said, it's still distressing in some way, shape, or form.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: So little t trauma is less pronounced experiences and perhaps an accumulation of them can be especially harmful to you. When I think about differences between big T and little t trauma, I think about my own experiences. So, you know, one of the things that I have shared about my backstory is that I went through the trauma of losing a father at a young age.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: I have gone to many years of therapy to process this experience. I'm very comfortable talking about it. It is not something that I worry about as negatively impacting me or those around me. [00:07:00] Although, of course, intent is different from how others receive it. So there might be incidents where unbeknownst to me, I, it might be too much for someone else to hear, especially if someone else went through a similar situation.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: So you always have to be mindful of things like that. But, um, that's what I think about when I think about big T trauma. Little t trauma, I think about things like microaggressions and all the isms that we might be dealing with day to day. That again, if it happens once, it's like a bee sting. You'll survive from it.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: If it happens multiple times, that's very distressing. You get multiple bee stings, you might be sent to the hospital. You get multiple isms, multiple forms of oppression, multiple microaggressions. It is going to impact you in some way, shape, or form. Your body, mind, spirit, it is going to impact you. And again, going back to you disclosing, sharing information in your grad school application essay, [00:08:00] why does this matter?

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Because what you share impacts you. What you share impacts others. And when you're thinking about what you want to share in your application essay, you want to keep in mind issues related to disclosure. You want to keep in mind to what extent you've processed this experience. You want to keep in mind how What you share impacts you and others around you, and you want to keep in mind how you could talk about any event in a way that supports your application, in a way that's part of your storytelling, that ties into convincing your reader why you are there, the best applicant for this program.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: So starting out with the disclosure piece, we have to make very personal decisions when we write our statement of purpose and personal statement around what we want others to know about us. Some [00:09:00] things we share, no matter what, could potentially be a risk. That's why. You know, whenever you share something that's potentially risky, someone might say, Oh, thank you for being vulnerable because they viewed it as potentially risky, uh, or it could potentially put you in a precarious situation.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: So I, I'm not one to tell anybody to share anything that they're not comfortable talking about, especially if it could lead to them being discriminated against, especially if it could lead to them being harmed in some way, shape, or form. However, there are times that people disclose information in ways where it is necessary for them to get the support that they need.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Here I'm thinking specifically about those of us that need accommodations, those of us that are seeking specific types of support. I'm thinking, let me give examples, because sometimes I speak conceptually and it helps to ground what I'm talking about with specific examples. I'm thinking about Parenting students and even mama scholars.[00:10:00]

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: I recall many years ago helping someone applying to graduate programs and she was trying to decide, do I mention that I'm a single mom or do I not? And I thought, okay, well, what are the pros and cons of the two? You could mention it, potentially be at risk of getting discriminated against, or you could not mention it.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: not worry about discrimination, and then worry about how they might support you later. Or you could mention it up front. If you get admitted, you know that they know this and you can ask about resources that they offer to student parents and see how it goes. So for some of us, it's important that we disclose our identities because we know that we want to be in spaces where folks are openly accepting and supportive of these identities.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: So in her case, it was her decision. She did decide to disclose her parenting status and she ended up getting admitted to a bunch of PhD [00:11:00] programs. At, I don't know, five or six of them. And that was one of the ways that she determined where she was gonna go. What types of support did they offer? How did they support her in finding a school for her kid?

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Did they offer any childcare funding? Um, did they have family, student housing, et cetera. It was a big part of her decision making process, even what does healthcare look like for families? That's why she chose to disclose it Now. If you're disclosing something that you feel like is more harmful than helpful, then again, it's up to you to decide, but you might want to keep it to yourself.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: I can't make that decision for you. It would be unethical for me to make that decision for people, especially folks who I'm providing guidance to. But, keep in mind the pros and cons, keep in mind what are the risks involved and what are the potential benefits involved in you disclosing this information about yourself.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: The other thing that comes up a lot is about sharing things and [00:12:00] how, not only can it be harmful based on how other people perceive you, but how can it be harmful to you based on you going back in time and recalling this incident or these series of incidents. Think about where are you in that. wound healing process of that event or series of events or whatever it is that you're sharing about your background.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Because for some of us, you might be going through something and you haven't overcome that thing. You haven't fully healed from that thing. You're not comfortable talking about it without it re triggering you or even re traumatizing you. And if that's the case, I want you to just Tread the waters very carefully and think about what are you willing to share that's not going to be harmful or triggering or re traumatizing to you.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: You are not obligated to disclose. any trauma in your [00:13:00] application essays. Let me say that again for those that didn't hear me. You are not required to disclose any type of trauma in your grad school application essays. You don't have to to write a strong essay. You don't. But If it is an important aspect of your background and backstory and directly relates back to why you're doing what you're doing, why you're studying what you're studying, why you're pursuing this graduate program, why you're pursuing this career in life, then it can be quite helpful and perhaps even strategic to use it as a storytelling method and strategy to help convince your reader.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Remember, again, the Grad school application essays are all about convincing your reader that you are a qualified and competitive candidate, and that there are strong reasons why you're pursuing this graduate program. Another thing I want you to consider is if [00:14:00] whether or not what you're sharing is has been a formative experience because.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: These are the events that sometimes are tied to the reasons why we do what we do. And it can be quite helpful to share a formative experience or a series of events that have been formative to you. Especially when you're writing, for instance, the introduction to your statement of purpose or certain parts of your personal statement.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: There is what a lot of people call a hook that we kind of encourage you to include in your essays, which is a way to gather your reader's interest. effectively and quickly by sharing an antidote, by sharing a story, by sharing a memory, by sharing a quote, something that'll peak their attention because they're calling the rev, the admissions [00:15:00] committee that are reviewing your application materials.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: They don't have a lot of time. They're combing through dozens, if not hundreds of applicants and you want to draw them. in and you draw them in not by writing a generic and vague essay that says nothing about who you are, what you do, what you're doing, what you're doing. You do that by bringing in storytelling and sharing strategic and selective pieces of information about you that will convince them that they want you in their program.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: If this program values diversity, then it might be helpful for you to share key aspects of your identities that make you a diverse candidate. If this program values, I don't know, I'm trying to think about other, um, collaboration, then you might want to add, uh, talk about a key experience in your college days that proved how you collaborated well or overcame an issue when you [00:16:00] were collaborating with someone else.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: So again, just to sound like a broken record here, I want to remind you, you don't actually have to share any trauma. at all if you don't want to. You don't have to trauma dump. I am, I actually don't encourage you to drama dump. I don't want you to share anything that you're not comfortable sharing. But if you use it strategically as a way to more effectively share about why you're a strong candidate by saying, you know what, this is all tied back to this trajectory that I've been on.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: This all ties back to maybe your childhood or this all ties back to a moment in high school. This all ties back to my first year in college, whatever. It all ties back to this formative event or a series of events. And since then you've been passionate, you've been determined, you've been pursuing this path, then great!

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: It's going to help you, um, if it's not going to help you, if it's one of those things that's holding you back, that's [00:17:00] having you get stuck. There are other ways to write hooks. It doesn't have to involve, like I said, little T or big T trauma. Okay, so I hope that this was helpful. Remember again, think about disclosure and how that could impact you.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Think about how it can impact your reader. Think about whether or not whatever you're sharing. is a raw or healed wound or a wound that you're currently healing. Um, and think about like, is this actually going to help or hurt my application? Is this actually moving the needle forward of convincing them that I'm the right applicant?

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: If it is, then consider keeping it. If you're comfortable sharing about this, consider keeping it. If you're not, Don't do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable, uh, that makes you feel like it could potentially risk harming you. I am not a fan of writing grad school application essays in ways that don't feel [00:18:00] authentic and safe for you.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: So, that's it for this week's episode. Let me know what your thoughts are on this topic. I don't feel like enough people are actually talking about this openly. I did my search online to try to see what are other folks talking about? What are other people are saying about this topic? And all I could find were Reddit threads.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: So that means that we need to talk about this more. Let me know your thoughts. I'm always curious what my listeners are thinking. And yeah, maybe I'll do a follow up episode if this topic is as interesting as I think it is, if it keeps coming up over and over again. All right, y'all. I will talk to you all next time.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: Thanks so much for joining me in the Grad School Femtoring Podcast. If you like what you heard, here are four ways you can support the show. The first is to make sure you're subscribed and leave a review on [00:19:00] Apple Podcasts. The second way is to get your copy of my free Grad School Femtoring Resource Kit, which includes essential information to prepare for and navigate grad school.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: You can access it at the link in today's show notes. The third way to support my show is to follow me on social media. You can find me on Instagram with the handle at gradschoolfemtoring and on LinkedIn by searching my name. The last way to show your love is to sign up to work with me via my Grad School Femtoring Academy, my group coaching program for first gen BIPOCs seeking to work on their personal growth and gain sustainable productivity skills.

Dra. Yvette Martinez-Vu: You can learn more at gradschoolfemtoring. com slash academy. Thanks again for listening and until next time.

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