Samantha Gerson has always been interested in the treatment of trauma, but it wasn’t until she worked with traumatized adults that she realized children suffering from these same conditions need attention and care they’re not getting.
“Kids are human. I feel like people forget that a lot,” said Gerson, a senior in the Silver School of Social Work. “I think the best treatment for a child is communicating with them, just speaking to them, and I think a lot of forms of treatment just don’t communicate — they punish or they inactively ignore.”
Punishment, negligence and abuse are all things Gerson said she experienced firsthand as a teenager during her time as a student at Logan River Academy in Logan, Utah. Logan River is a residential treatment center — a place where children and teens suffering from a range of emotional and psychological issues, including autism, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, can go for treatment.
While Logan River is certified as an academic institution, it is not an accredited mental health facility and therefore is not held to any specific ethical or professional standards.
“A lot of parents, especially in big city areas, send their kids for depression or anxiety or things like that, to residential treatment centers, and they’re super helpful,” Gerson said. “But Logan River, as my mother wasn’t aware, is not an accredited [Residential Treatment Center], so when I was there I did not have the experience that I think my mom or I was looking for, and my anxiety was not treated. On the contrary, my roommate there, who is currently still my best friend, and I faced a lot of abuse, both physically and emotionally.”
The abuse that Gerson and many other survivors experienced has left significant marks on their lives and has led many to seek additional help. But even after enduring this mistreatment, Gerson said she planned to stay silent.
“I didn’t really have an interest in it, to be honest,” Gerson said. “I had my experience, I got over it, I got into social work.”
She didn’t share her story with anyone but close friends until two years ago, when she was contacted by others who’d had similar experiences at Logan River and facilities like it.
“These people have dedicated their lives to abuse as an issue, institutional abuse, and so they started this campaign and reached out to me because I specifically had attended the school, and I kind of turned into the face of it,” Gerson said. “Because of my background in social work, I ended up being more than they were actually looking for, so it worked out that I joined the team.”
For over a year, Gerson has been working with Shutdown Logan River Academy, sharing her experiences and connecting with activists and parents of children who have suffered the abusive treatment of Logan River. She even convinced some parents to not send their children there.
Since the campaign started, Gerson and the network of Logan River activists have received the attention from national news outlets, the endorsement of the hacker group Anonymous and the support from Project Human Rights, which has begun investigating the conditions at Logan River.
“If there are so many eyes and so much media and so much attention coming in on all the students who haven’t agreed to lie for them and all the students who are covered in bruises, they can’t hide from that,” Gerson said.
In addition to her work on the Logan River project, Gerson has worked with the Trevor Project, Best Buddies, Homes for Homeless and has led service trips to New Orleans and Milwaukee as part of Alternative Breaks. Gerson’s colleagues, including her Best Buddies supervisor Allie Kobren, say Gerson is thoroughly dedicated to all her commitments, even with her busy schedule.
“She juggles leadership and volunteer positions with demanding social work field placements, rigorous coursework and a part-time job,” Kobren said. “Samantha truly puts her heart and soul into each of these obligations and imposes and maintains a personal standard of excellence for herself in all that she does.”
Gerson has shown her determination in the face of adversity and the doubt of others. Though officials and administrators at the school have denied the allegations brought up on shutdownloganriver.com, including Gerson’s own personal video testimony detailing her abuses, she is confident that continuing to shine a light on Logan River will soon expose its harmful practices.
“The idea is to start with LRA and get that shut down, then get media attention to say ‘this is a problem and this is happening,’” Gerson said. “These institutions take advantage of their power and do things to children in need.”
Gerson said she plans to continue with her education after graduation and hopes to work as a trauma counselor for kids and teens with PTSD or a history of sexual and physical abuse. Ultimately, she could see herself working in a Residential Treatment Center, providing children and teens with the help she was denied at Logan River.
“I think this field kind of becomes your life,” Gerson said. “I want to help kids like the ones I was around growing up, who aren’t being helped.” • Ife Olujobi