Thinking Through Trauma in the Classroom


How do we help learning take place when our curricula and contexts bring participants face to face with traumatizing subject matters?

Three grey thought bubbles are displayed horizontally against a black backdrop. The first says "re-frame." The second says "re-orient." The third says "re-engage."
A Framework for Thinking Through Trauma


  • Empower teachers to make space for honest answers and better questions
  • Cultivate a classroom where participants can navigate and negotiate the fine line between making difference and making a difference.
  • Equip students with content knowledge and skills despite a traumatizing world.

Questions for Reflection

Thinking about trauma…

  1. What do you hope for the classroom?
  2. What do you fear about the classroom?
  3. What is one area where you want to learn to be more present in the classroom?

Recommended Resources

Lindsay Murn, “Trauma-Informed Teaching Resources,” The Center for Teaching and Learning at University of Minnesota–Mankato.

Lea Waters and Tom Brunzell, “Five Ways to Support Students Affected by Trauma,” Greater Good Magazine, August 13, 2018. Berkeley.

Desirae Zingarelli-Sweet, “Keeping Up with…Trauma-Informed Pedagogy,” Association of College Research Libraries.

Teaching and Traumatic Events [Blog Series]. The Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religious Studies.

Cait S. Kirby, PhD created a helpful and poignant video on trauma-informed pedagogy in light of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning.


I started writing to figure out what had happened to me. I started writing to make sense of my past years training to be an academic but also to figure out what my future might be. I started writing not only about my life but also about higher ed to answer the questions that swirled in my head about the profession I thought I loved and understood, only to realize that I didn’t know what that profession actually was. I started writing to figure things out and to try to save my own life by creating a new story of who I was and who I could become.

from Kelly Baker, “The End was not the End”

Some years ago, I gave my graduate seminar a recent article to read. I do not now remember what that article was, or even what it was about, but I do remember clearly that upon opening the discussion by asking for first impressions, several students in a row offered fairly merciless takedowns, pointing out the essay’s critical failures and ideological blindspots, some of which were justified but at least a couple of which seemed, frankly, to have missed the point. After the third such response, I interjected: “Okay, okay, I want to dig into all of that, but let’s back up a bit first. What’s the author’s argument? What’s her goal in the article? What does she want the reader to come away with?”Silence.

I won’t rehash all of what ensued, but suffice it to say that it was a difficult moment. I was a lot younger and a fair bit less steady on my feet then, and my initial response to the silence was to start wondering whether I’d asked a stupid question, whether the sudden failure to meet my gaze was a sign that my students were now wondering how I’d ever gotten to this point in my career with such a pedestrian perspective, whether having asked them about the argument was tantamount to asking them what the author’s name was and where they might find it on the page, either so painfully obvious that they were mortified to find themselves being treated like high-school students or so apparently superficial that there must be deeper layers that they were missing. “It’s not a trick question,” I said, asking again for somebody to take a stab at summarizing the argument. It only gradually became clear to me that the question was not stupid or superficial but rather oddly unfamiliar, that everything in their educations to that point had prepared them for interrogating and unpacking, demystifying and subverting, all of the most important critical acts of reading against the grain, but too little emphasis had been placed on the acts of paying attention, of listening, of reading with rather than reading against.

from Kathleen Fitzpatrick, Ungenerous Thinking: The University and the Public Good

When I read “trust Black women” I hear a demand that Black women not have to individually disprove your assumptions about our belongingness before you will listen to what we say.

Categories and structures are about the defaults you use to govern your actions and interactions. If you truly trust Black women you will consider that they know something you do not know before you assume that a Black woman is wrong when she disagrees with you.

At that most fundamental level, trusting Black women is a political philosophy about the structures of our emotions and daily lives.

Trusting Black women is not about every individual Black woman always being right. It is about you assuming that she could be right even if doing so means you may be wrong.

from Tressie McMillan Cottom, “Trust Black Women?”

I heard from a psychologist that one of the first diagnoses of someone who expressed that they experienced racism was paranoia. Ponder the possibility that there is a vast conspiracy of wealth and power with great hatred towards you and with the goal to disrupt and/or to end your life—that is paranoid, and it also true of racism. In order to understand my paranoia/reality, it is important to know my social location. I am Japanese American, and during World War II my family’s fears became reality when they were forced into internment camps without cause and without due process, in large part because of society’s fears of their race. Additionally, being a Japanese American leaves me open to mischaracterizations of my scholarship on race, especially to the tactic of dismissing my critical analysis of past and present racism as revenge for the internment camps. I also am aware that in our political climate, anyone against racism can be regarded as working against all white people. In short, my social location and family history as a Japanese American provides intimate knowledge of the history, presence, and functions of white supremacy, but this location and history also damns me in the eyes of those defending it. Moreover, being on tenure track but without tenure, I am under the threat of termination for offending the politics of university administration—something I have seen happen with devastating results. Retribution would be swift and would likely be even more detrimental for those not on tenure track. In this light, tenure is not just job security and status but a rare protection of academic freedom and sanity, though by no means an impenetrable one.

from Brett Esaki, On Not Teaching Whiteness

Nota Bene

Beyond the resources above, I hope you’ll check out the resources collected here on my site. I recommend using the search bar to look for thoughts on questions and topics. And if I haven’t shared anything on it, please reach out to me. I’d love to create something or connect you with someone who already has.

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