Alumnae/i Feature

Roxann Mascoll ’15MSW Integrates Art and Social Work to Address Trauma Experienced by Black and Brown Men

Living a Triggered Life podcast poster

“Simmons helped me understand who I wanted to be in my clinical practice, and in my work with Keith and the Triggered Project.”

For 18 years, Roxann Mascoll ’15MSW worked as a domestic violence specialist. She is now Lead Clinician for The Triggered Project, a non-profit that includes a play and film that addresses how Black and Brown men experience and process childhood trauma. Mascoll is also a staff psychotherapist at Brandeis University Counseling Center and a lead clinical social worker at Boston Medical Center. She co-hosts “Living a Triggered Life” Podcast with her husband, Keith, and the pair will speak at Simmons on March 14, Elevating Alumnae/i Voices: The Triggered Project Presents Social Work Education and the Arts. We spoke to Mascoll about the inspiration that launched her career and the development of The Triggered Project.

When reflecting on what sparked her interest in the social work field, Roxann Mascoll ’15MSW starts with influences close to home.

“My mom was a grassroots social worker,” she says. “She worked at Bellevue Hospital in New York, and patients would come to ask her questions all the time. I thought it was her job to help people, but she was actually an administrator.” When Mascoll discovered social work as a career, it clicked. “That’s what my mom was, naturally. She understood what marginalization was; she was a social worker at her job, and the community knew that.”

After meeting Simmons School of Social Work representatives at a conference of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), Mascoll learned about the School’s reputation for clinical social work and decided it was the right place for her. She received funding from the Massachusetts Department of Children & Families (DCF) and support from the Social Work Fellowship program, through which MSW and Ph.D students receive stipends to collaborate with Social Work faculty on their research projects.

The Triggered Project

Now, Mascoll is collaborating with her husband, Keith Mascoll, a professional actor and M. Ed candidate at Harvard University Graduate School of Education. The Triggered Project is a multi-media initiative — including a film and stage production — spotlighting the necessity of mental health support for Black and Brown men. “We wanted to find ways to work together, combining his art and my social work,” says Mascoll. The couple had been together for eight years before her husband disclosed his childhood trauma. “When Keith told me, I didn’t know what to do,” she recalls. “I’m a trained social worker, but I didn’t know how to process this or how to help him. Why didn’t I know how to help? I became upset and angry, and it motivated me to train mental health professionals to welcome Black and Brown men [into our practice].”

Keith and his colleague, John Oluwole Adekoje, co-wrote a play, The Triggered Life, about Black men who had experienced sexualized trauma in childhood. “They brought me in as lead clinician to consult on the movie,” says Mascoll, who oversaw the film and stage version of the script. “We use The Triggered Life for social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists to understand the [specific] perspectives of these two Black men,” says Mascoll. “We offer workshops that discuss multiple modalities and interventions to begin working with Black and Brown men and to invite them into these mental health spaces.”

The stage production of The Triggered Life emphasizes the use of art to touch on these sensitive topics. “Art is attainable for all of us,” says Mascoll. “Some art works for us and some does not. Think about the artwork in a museum that you want to lean into, while other pieces don’t speak to you. We created The Triggered Life with visual imagery and audio. We even played with the temperature in the room so people really understand what it feels like to be activated or “triggered.” They can lean into it or lean away from it. We worked hard to try to create that experience for audience members.”

Therapists, social workers, and psychologists attended the first show. Afterward, Mascoll saw people in the hallways engaging with therapists. “We had men disclose for the first time in that space, with people they don’t know. This is how we knew we were on to something.”

The couple lived in Portland, Oregon for a month when Keith was invited to perform a four-week run of the play at the Portland Playhouse. From there, alongside John Oluwole Adekoje they created a groundbreaking motion picture live stage hybrid version of the show in order to share more widely during the COVID-19 pandemic. “We started circulating it to help train social workers and mental health professionals on how to approach treatment for Black and Brown men who have a history of sexual trauma.”

Mascoll and her husband have created a podcast, “Living a Triggered Life.” “[Keith] wanted to highlight me and my work. We spend all of our time talking about how trauma has interrupted our relationships. [The podcast] is a way of making therapy accessible to whoever wants it.”

Keith has also engaged with men re-entering the workforce after incarceration and chemical dependency with his Sneaker Therapy Monologue Art Project. “They are coming out of incarceration looking for a new start, and we want to support them,” says Mascoll. “We’ve done work with the Volunteers of America [a men’s residential treatment program in Oregon], and plan to continue the relationship with them.”

Moreover, the Mascolls have partnered with Boston-based museums. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum selected Keith as a 2020 Luminary, for which he created “Empty Frames,” a monologue filmed in the museum that reflects on the stolen art within the museum, and what was stolen from him as a result of childhood trauma. The couple has also recorded live episodes of the podcast at the Museum of Science. “The podcast is about what’s happening in the brain,” explains Mascoll. “We discuss the science behind trauma, how it skews perspectives. In our last episode, we talked about how music has helped us throughout our relationship. Couples have talked about their music and their rhythm, and how we interact with our partners, in terms of the rhythm of how, when, and if we communicate.”

In 2023, Mascoll and her husband received a grant to partner with Boston College and Dr. Robert Motley at the School of Social Work on a series of events, including screening The Triggered Life film and a follow up discussion; a third event for students will take place this year.

Reflections on Being a Black Social Worker

Mascoll is an active member of the National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW), which has given her the opportunity to reflect on her role as a Black social worker. “It centered me, helping me shift into being a social worker in Black communities.”

After her Simmons graduation in 2015, Mascoll created a new Association of Black Social Work Chapter named Metrowest Massachusetts Black Catalysts affiliated with the National ABSW. “I tell students, it’s important to understand your historical context and allow that to help you show up as your authentic selves. That’s what the National ABSW did for me; it helped me identify as a Black social worker. That is a gem I got [from NABSW] and from Simmons.”

Mascoll has returned to Simmons to earn a Treatment for Trauma Certification and earn an Urban Leadership Certificate as a part of her MSW. “Those two pieces made a difference in how I think about myself as a social worker. Simmons helped me understand who I wanted to be in my clinical practice, and in my work with Keith and the Triggered Project.” Mascoll is now positioned to help mentor Simmons students who are members of the Simmons ABSW chapter. In both mentorship and clinical work, she uses her own experiences to support others. “I have my own trauma history,” she says. “[As therapists], we are only two steps away from the client in front of us. We’re all just trying to figure it out.”