Understanding the many types of trauma and how it may impact students’ learning and wellbeing is important for an optimal learning environment. The severity and chronicity of traumatic stressors are factors that impact the effects of trauma on an individual, and persistent exposure to traumatic events can lead to toxic stress (Shern, Blanch, & Steverman, 2016). Trauma may be experienced on a personal level, on a systemic level, or both. Trauma causes the body’s stress response to kick in, and long-term exposure to stress can lead to poor health outcomes associated with toxic stress (Shern, Blanch, & Steverman, 2016). Students may be currently experiencing a variety of trauma or may come to college having already experienced trauma, including Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) (Oehme et al., 2019).
Researchers have found that learning about the impacts of trauma can be empowering for people who have experienced ACEs or other trauma (Davidson & McEwen, 2012). The plasticity of the emerging adult brain makes college an ideal time to teach students about impacts of trauma and how to cope with it (Oehme et al., 2019). Teaching about trauma and positive coping and stress management skills can help students, who have experienced trauma, to understand more about its effects and to how to cope, giving them more opportunities for healing and growth (Oehme et al., 2019). This can also help our larger community. Being trauma sensitive can potentially prevent re-traumatization and foster a sense of connection and belonging. This can help students meet their academic goals.
- Understand that “trauma inhibits executive functioning and self-regulation skills such as planning, remembering, and focusing”, therefore affecting learning (Donovan & Collard- Jarnot).
- Provide consistent expectations. Give advance notice of changes when possible. Upload notes and assignments with plenty of time to review them. (McMurtrie, 2020).
- Build personal relationships with students and employ dependability, empathy, and openness in interactions.
- Incorporate practices that help manage high stress and trauma triggering moments. The Trauma Resources Institute offers 6 practices through the I-Chill App
- Consider how content in your classes may be triggering to some students (i.e. depictions of interpersonal violence, war, racial bias incidents, self-harm, etc.).
- If you think the content is vital to the course, consider adding trigger warnings and offering alternatives for students who do not wish to view the conten
- Acknowledge trauma in a real and empathetic way. In the Spring 2020 CSU Academic PULSE Survey, students reported feeling unheard when faculty did not acknowledge the COVID-19 virus and changes to instruction and tried to act “as if things were normal” (Ziegler & Collard Jarnot).
- When appropriate, connect students to supportive community and professional help. According to Donovan & Collard Jarnot, “students gain perspective from/through the lived experience of their peers.”
- Incorporate mindfulness practices into class time.
- Have an understanding of the resources for students who have experienced trauma.
- Those of us who teach and serve students, experience our own trauma and toxic stress. CSU Employee Assistance Program and the I Chill App are two resources for support.
- Continue to learn about trauma and its impacts.
- Watch: Campus Climate Trauma: Students of Color Living and Reliving Traumatic Experiences and Healing.
- Read: The Science Behind PTSD Symptoms: How Trauma Changes The Brain
- Read: Trauma-Informed Practices for Postsecondary Education: A Guide By Shannon Davidson, Ph.D., Education Northwest
- Read: The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D.