Davis Lecture Explores Moral Injury, Moral Distress

Joanne M. Braxton discussed those affected by exposure to trauma and injustice during her talk in the Lenfest Theater on February 14.

It was the first of two Davis Visiting Professor of Judeo-Christian Values lectures this semester. The professorship was established in 1988 through the generosity of Thomas G. and Nancy B. Davis. It enables the holder to examine Judeo-Christian values and embody them for the benefit of students and faculty, culminating in a lecture for the community.

Braxton is an ordained minister, Frances L. and Edwin L. Cummings Professor Emerita of English and the Humanities at the College of William and Mary, and community faculty in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School.

She began her talk by reciting a poem that she wrote in 1988 about her father, one that detailed how some of his experiences during World War II affected his life.

“I realize that even 30 years ago, I was seeking language to describe suffering,” Braxton said. She discussed how “moral distress” and “moral injury” are intersecting yet distinct in relation to their disciplinary origins in nursing and military psychology and she strives to apply theories surrounding them to education, ministry and other helping professions.

“Clinical care, military psychology, criminal justice, humanitarianism—transdisciplinary collaboration is required to build a foundation for a shared understanding of moral suffering,” Braxton said. “There is an urgent need for community building and knowledge sharing at the intersections of these disciplines—reaching beyond disciplinary silos—in order to interrupt that suffering and transform capacities to heal.”

Braxton is CEO and president of the board at the Braxton Institute, which fosters physical, emotional and spiritual sanctuary for those affected by multiple and intersecting forms of oppression.

The second Davis lecture, featuring Eboo Patel, will occur on Tuesday, April 2, at 7 p.m. in the Lenfest Theater in the Kaleidoscope Performing Arts Center. Patel will present “Out of Many Faiths: Religious Diversity and the American Promise.”

Patel is a leading voice in the movement for interfaith cooperation and the founder and president of Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), a national nonprofit working to make interfaith cooperation a social norm. His talk will explore how America’s promise is the guarantee of equal rights and dignity for all, and how that promise is the foundation of America’s unrivalled strength as a nation. –By Ed Moorhouse