Building a Trauma-Informed Practice in the Classroom and Beyond
According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, 13% of all college students (graduate and undergraduate) experience rape or sexual assault during their college years. This does not account for other forms of interpersonal violence (IPV), such as stalking or sexual harassment, that a student might experience. It also does not account for any experiences of IPV that a student may have had prior to attending college. Statistically speaking, this means there is a good chance you currently have at least one student in all your classes who has experienced IPV in their lifetime or who may even be experiencing it right now.
Here are just a few of the ways faculty and staff members can show support for survivors of IPV in the classroom and beyond.
Include a supportive statement in your syllabus
Many professors already include statements in their syllabi, but in this particular case, the statement should be directed towards supporting and standing with students who identify as survivors of IPV. A syllabus statement typically starts with a statement of support for any student who might be experiencing IPV. This language might include, for example:
“As an instructor, one of my responsibilities is to help create a safe learning environment in our class. Should you experience interpersonal violence, know that it is not your fault and you are not alone. NC State provides an array of resources available to all members of the Wolfpack. You can learn more about these issues, including your rights, options, and resources, by visiting go.ncsu.edu/safe or go.ncsu.edu/supportsurvivors.”
Following a statement like this, we recommend including any available resources, such as the Women’s Center, Equal Opportunity and Equity, or the Counseling Center (for students), if they need them.
Your syllabus is a great place to also include a statement about being a Designated Official or Responsible Employee, if you are one. A Responsible Employee is an employee “who has been given the duty of reporting incidents of sex discrimination or any other misconduct to the Title IX coordinator or other appropriate school designees.” If you are unsure of your Responsible Employee status, see Designated Official and Responsible Employees. When you scroll to the bottom of the page, you can find a document that highlights all the Responsible Employees on NC State’s campus (updated on an annual basis). If you are a Responsible Employee, practice “interrupt and inform” if a student discloses to you, and understand how to support them.
Use content warnings and offer academic accommodations
Sometimes in a classroom setting, topics can be triggering for survivors of IPV. A trigger is some sort of outside stimulus that can cause a survivor to recall a traumatic experience. Triggers can be anything, and responses to them can show up in a variety of ways. Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is very common among survivors. Some of the common symptoms include re-experiencing the trauma through flashbacks, avoidance or hyper-arousal (having a feeling of constantly being “on-edge”). When these topics come up without warning, they can cause harm to a student who has experienced trauma because it can induce PTSD symptoms. Providing a simple content warning, notice or alert beforehand can prepare the student for what they might hear, and if the student feels they cannot be in the environment, then it allows them time to leave.
There are many ways to offer a content warning. The most common way is simply by verbalizing that potentially triggering information will be talked about in class. For example, you could say, “Today in class we will be discussing topics related to interpersonal violence. I recognize that this is a heavy topic, so at any point, if you need to take a moment for yourself, please feel free to do so.” It’s also great to add resources at the end or the beginning of the talk so that students can access support if needed.
Another way that a content warning can be provided is in writing. This might be beneficial if you are trying to provide a warning for a reading or video that a student might need to look at prior to class. This statement can be as simple as a sentence or two stating what type of potentially sensitive topics are described in the readings or videos. If you also use syllabus statements, then you can add an additional statement in your content warning directing students to the resources provided in the syllabus, which allows students to prepare ahead of time and could mean scheduling a counseling appointment or meeting with a Women’s Center advocate before or after the specific class, or creating a self-care plan after viewing the related content.
As a trauma-informed educator, offering extensions or alternative assignments for students who are experiencing symptoms of trauma can be helpful. The Women’s Center or Equal Opportunity and Equity can also work with you and students to discuss academic accommodations that can cover the required course content while allowing student to prioritize their mental and emotional health and safety.
Create a supportive environment
Content warnings and syllabus statements are just a start to creating a trauma-informed environment for your students. Understanding the type of environment you are creating for your students is just as important. Be mindful of the fact that trauma manifests differently in everyone. You might notice a student who is sleeping in class and assume that they went out partying the night before and are just sleeping it off, when in reality, they may be experiencing a trauma response. Instead of making assumptions about a student’s behavior, check in on them during a break or after class by simply asking if everything is okay. Even if everything is going well for the student, you have started to create a safe and supportive environment by showing them that you are not there to judge them and make assumptions.
Visual markers are also important so students know that you are a safe and supportive faculty or staff member they can talk to who will not judge or blame them. Faculty and staff can create their own visuals or stop by the Women’s Center (Talley Student Union, Suite 5210) to pick up visual markers to add to their offices and classroom spaces. These can be things like stickers for your laptop, binders or water bottle that show support for survivors. Other visual signs of support can be flyers that direct students to the available campus resources, posters that show statements of support, or any other visual representation that shows you are an ally that students can feel safe and comfortable talking to about their experience.
You may also want to pay attention to current events happening on campus, in the community, or in wider society. If a WolfAlert related to IPV is sent across campus notifying of a recent sexual assault, it may re-trigger some of your students regardless of whether they know the impacted parties personally. Students may also be impacted if there is a high-profile case related to IPV in the news or media, or TV shows or movies that focus on sexual assault, harassment, stalking, etc. Regardless of the course you teach, you may want to acknowledge these events and remind your students that you are a resource and support if they or someone they know needs help.
Educate yourself and show up
A great way to build a positive, supportive environment is to show up for your students by educating yourself and participating in advocacy efforts. There are many programs and events that occur both on- and off-campus that would allow faculty to show their support for students who have experienced IPV. On NC State’s campus, some of the resources within the Women’s Center that you can consult are The Movement Peer Educators (a student-led advocacy and education group) from whom you can request a workshop on Consent or Healthy Relationships for your classes, invite a guest lecture for a specific class, or even assign extra credit for attending a workshop taught by The Movement. You can also join the Pack Survivor Support Alliance (PSSA). PSSA is specifically geared towards faculty and staff at NC State. It consists of various training opportunities that teach about IPV, trauma and how to support students. Participating in the PSSA may even count towards a faculty member’s required annual DEI performance goal.
In addition to educating yourself and participating in these trainings, you can begin to create an environment where your students are educated as well. One of the resources that the Women’s Center provides is a media library that allows you to check out media content and hold discussions on IPV to bring more awareness to, and end, rape culture.
There are also always opportunities to volunteer with the Women’s Center and with resources in the Raleigh area. You can participate in some of the Women’s Center’s signature events during Domestic Violence Awareness Month (October), Stalking Awareness Month (January) and Sexual Assault Awareness Month (April). Mark your calendar for Take Back The Night every April, where you can attend the annual rally with student and staff speakers, march across campus in solidarity and attend the survivor speakout. If you cannot support on-campus efforts, InterAct is one of the off-campus resources that partners with the Women’s Center. You might be able to volunteer with them to support advocacy efforts in the Raleigh area. Being an advocate can increase your awareness and understanding of what might be impacting your students in their daily lives.
Access resources and take care of yourself
Perhaps one of the more important things to consider when creating a trauma-informed practice is to remember to take care of yourself. We recognize that faculty and staff may have their own experiences with IPV, so a disclosure from a student might have a direct or indirect impact on you as well. Being able to practice self-care and give yourself the space you need and deserve is one of the best ways for you to support and be there for your students. Part of self-care is also knowing your boundaries. It’s okay if you don’t have the capacity to fully support a student who might disclose to you. In fact, unless you have been educated or trained on how to respond to survivors, you should do your best to connect the student with resources on campus and partners who are trained experts. Use the Women’s Center, the Sexual Assault Helpline at 919.515.4444 (and its companion email at firstname.lastname@example.org), the Counseling Center, or OIED’s Equal Opportunity and Equity unit. All of these resources can help guide you and your students to the appropriate offices on campus that can best meet their needs. After connecting your student with resources, taking care of yourself should be a priority. Find time to talk to confidential resources, practice your own self-care routines and give yourself time to rest and recharge.
These tips are ways that you can be the advocate that your students need. Remember, if a student discloses that they are experiencing IPV, make sure to respond in a supportive and affirming manner and connect them with the appropriate support and resources. If you want to learn more about IPV and what you can do to support students who might be experiencing it, you can do the following:
- sign up to join the Pack Survivor Support Alliance;
- sign to receive the Women’s Center’s newsletter;
- attend the Women’s Center’s Signature Events.