Breaking the Cycle: Randi Ross

image of Randi Ross standing outside looking away from the camera

Randi Ross, BS ‘21 Family and Human Services, is passionate about child abuse prevention. Her personal experience as a survivor led to her pursuing a degree at the UO to serve the community as a social worker, but she discovered a love of research and prevention and will graduate this year with a master’s in Prevention Science. 

Randi and her four daughters struggled to find their way forward in the aftermath of an abusive marriage. She had suffered abuse before her marriage and was determined to end the cycle for her family. As Randi and her family began to recover, she considered going back to school.    

“My family went through a lot of trauma. I wasn’t able to go to school for a long time, due to the intensity of it. I was concerned with healing myself and my kids and doing what I could to keep us all safe and healthy. School was put on the back burner for quite a long time.” 

Randi studied at Lane Community College before applying to the UO. When asked why she chose to come here, she reminisced about her connection to Eugene and to the UO. 

“I found this picture of me when my older girls were babies, and we were walking near Autzen Stadium. I was making the ‘O’ with my hands. I saw that picture and I remembered dreaming about being able to go to the University of Oregon one day. I never thought that it would become reality. I had kids at a young age, and I was a single mom. I was financially supporting them on my own. When I saw that picture, it reminded me that even if it doesn’t seem like that dream is reachable, if you work hard, if you feel that that’s what you want to do, you will do it.” 

 Randi initially thought she would pursue work in direct intervention, and social work seemed like the right path, so she chose the Family and Human Services major. However, her experience working with 90by30, an initiative of the Center for the Prevention of Abuse and Neglect at the COE, led her to focus on prevention rather than intervention. 

“I hadn’t ever heard about 90by30, which shocked me because it hits very close to home. Right away, I knew that this line of work was where my heart was. When I started working with 90by30, I realized that this is exactly where I should be.” 

Mentorship from COE faculty, particularly Jeff Todahl, PhD, was crucial to her success at the COE. 

“If I could give one piece of advice it would be: find somebody in your faculty that can help guide you through your education. It’s a huge piece of the puzzle. I truly believe that just having someone who believes in you, is cheering for you, and rooting for you makes a huge difference.  

“I connected with Jeff and told him that I wanted to gain as much knowledge, wisdom, and experience from him as I could. He’s an incredible human. He supported and guided me through the college process.” 

Jeff spoke glowingly of Randi as well. 

“Randi is a remarkable combination of intelligence, persistence, and resilience. She has drawn from her own life experiences and her education at the UO to skillfully elevate youth voices, honor trauma survivors, and inspire action-taking throughout Lane County. She leads by example.” 

Jeff also helped Randi discover that research is more than facts and figures.  

“I didn’t think I liked research at all. When Jeff suggested that I apply to the Prevention Science program, I thought ‘you’ve got to be kidding me.’ I didn’t really know what research was and I thought research was just sitting behind a desk and crunching numbers. I love people. I want to be working with people, so when I got to listen to some of the interviews that were being conducted as part of the research for the Stewards of Children curriculum, I realized I love research.” 

Randi reflected on how her personal struggles changed her trajectory and led her to her work with 90by30. 

“It’s why I have so much passion for the work that I’m doing, because I’ve been there, and I’ve experienced it. It’s a big piece of my story. Obviously, I wish that certain things hadn’t happened to my family, but I wouldn’t be where I am today or who I am today without it. I don’t want anyone to ever have to go through even a hundredth of what my family had to go through.” 

When asked what she wishes people understood better about how to help those who have experienced abuse and neglect find support and heal, Randi had a few suggestions. 

“One of the first things that comes to mind is that everyone experiences it differently. You can have multiple kids in the same household that were exposed to the same thing but have completely different outcomes. 

“They need to be supported, both parents and kids. They need to know that you hear them and that you’re there. They need to be believed, and they need to be heard, and they need to be validated. Growth and healing depend on having someone believe in them. 

“It’s about being aware and not being judgmental. There were many times that I remember needing help and feeling like I had to prove that I’m not a drug addict, or I’m not a bad mom. There was always this stigma that it’s your fault that you need this help. Everybody was quick to judge. Shame is the last thing a parent needs when they’re trying to raise their kids while healing through their trauma. They are already haunted by their own guilt.” 

Acknowledging the importance of aiding families and children after abuse occurs, Randi firmly believes that child abuse prevention is urgently needed, and that we must discuss abuse openly to confront it head-on. 

“How are we ever going to end all this if we don’t discuss it? It’s so hush-hush. We need to make it okay to talk about it, or we’re going to be in the same position 20 years from now. 

“If we’re going to prevent child abuse, we’re going to need to go upstream and work with the youth who have experienced it. If we start working with them now, then by the time they’re adults they’ve had more protective factors put in place before they get to be parents. We can help stop that cycle.” 

Randi was recently hired as the South Lane Regional Leadership Team Coordinator in Cottage Grove, where she coordinates outreach and volunteer efforts to raise awareness about child abuse prevention. She’s also looking forward to assisting with the Oregon Child Abuse Prevalence Study, which Jeff Todahl calls “the gold standard for child abuse prevalence and climate-level prevention measurement.” CPAN researchers have been working since 2018 to determine the current rates of child abuse and neglect in Oregon so that policymakers can understand the depth of the problem and prevention efforts can measure their impact on rates of child abuse and neglect. Additional funding from the Oregon Legislature, announced last month, will allow CPAN and their partners to extend the scope of the study to the entire state of Oregon. 

Even with her considerable accomplishments, Randi measures her success by her ability to be a role model for her children. 

“I’ve had trials, successes, failures, and a lot of pain, but I just kept fighting. My greatest gift is to show my kids that you can go through an immense amount of trauma and have the world against you, and you can still persevere. I think I’ve set a good example for my kids.” 

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