CTIPP Tribute to Susan Salasin

Change sometimes comes from unexpected places, and leadership doesn’t always look like you expect it to. CTIPP was founded as the direct result of Susan Salasin’s lifelong commitment to addressing violence and trauma. Susan was in many ways an unlikely leader – a mid-level employee of SAMHSA who never sought glory and preferred to work behind the scenes – but she profoundly influenced the emergence and direction of the trauma movement.

 

To understand her impact, you must know her story. Susan was sixteen, walking home from school, when an assailant, in a surprise attack, smashed her entire face in with a steel bar. Her ten-year-old sister found her, frightening away the attacker. Her Mom, a single mother, spent the next ten years struggling to pay reconstructive surgery and dental bills and trying, unsuccessfully, to sue the attacker. Susan wrote later: “None of us knew enough then to know how bad mental health services were needed by each of us, but there would have been no means of obtaining them.” She wrote those words in 1982, in her testimony to the President’s Task Force on Victims of Crime – personal testimony that helped ensure the passage of the first federal Victims of Crime Act.

Susan’s early experience with violence and trauma-informed every aspect of her life and work. She had an unwavering commitment to centering the wisdom of people with lived experience. At a time when it just wasn’t done, she had the courage to convene a national event where the majority of speakers told their own stories of healing. Her relentless quest to make trauma healing available for all was matched by her passion for human rights and social justice. She had an uncanny sense of strategy, but she never shied away from a political fight – she was willing to use anything or anybody to make things better for trauma survivors. Her fierceness, her singular focus, and her penetrating intelligence intimidated many but won her profound loyalty from those who knew her best.

 

During her career, Susan made significant contributions to the field of knowledge utilization and was responsible for bringing a focus on women to SAMHSA. But she was best known for gathering early leaders together to launch the trauma movement. Many of these efforts shaped the field - Dare to Vision; the Women, Co-occurring Disorders and Violence Study; the National Center for Trauma-Informed Care; the Federal Partners Interagency Workgroup on Women and Trauma; and others too numerous to mention. They were all formulated with the ongoing guidance of leaders convened as a brain trust because, despite Susan’s feisty independence, she did not do things on her own. She understood how much we need each other’s ideas and experiences and support – a lesson she learned in part from her husband, who adored her and provided the safe space she needed to take the risks she took.

 

Which brings us back to CTIPP. In the mid- 2010s, Susan knew the landscape was changing. She foresaw a time when trauma and resilience would be everyday concepts, and she wanted to ensure that the movement remained true to its roots – focused on the people most harmed by trauma, pursuing legislative change as well as services, and always moving towards addressing injustice. For several years, she brought a handful of her most trusted advisors together to hash out what might be done and what it might look like. That conversation ultimately led to a larger convening to discuss whether an organized national advocacy effort was needed, and if so, how to get into action. That meeting, of course, was the founding of CTIPP.

Thank you, Susan.