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Helping Students Understand and Cope with Trauma


  • Dale Margolin Cecka
  • Lisa Jobe-Shields

In a lifetime, most of us are exposed to at least one potentially traumatic event, including war, interpersonal violence, sexual and physical abuse, serious injury, sudden loss of a loved one, natural disasters, or terrorism. Responses to trauma vary widely, from resiliency, posttraumatic growth, and complete recovery, to lasting developmental and neurological changes that can cascade into compromised social and relational functioning, decreased life expectancy, and trauma-related mental health problems such as posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, and substance-related difficulties. 

Our FLC will focus on the topic of trauma and traumatic stress, with our goals organized around the following four areas of discovery:

1)      Given the wide reaching impact of trauma and traumatic stress, it is no surprise that the study and teaching of trauma can be conducted from the lens of a multitude of disciplines, with each angle adding valuable and unique perspective on this public health issue.

a.  To this end, one goal of our FLC will be to share our individual perspectives through shared readings, and explore opportunities to teach/co-teach interdisciplinary or cross-disciplinary courses in the area of trauma, for example, developing a Richmond Endeavor Experience, FYS, community-based learning courses, internships, or other innovative course offerings

 2)   Second, given the individual and societal burden of trauma on medical, legal, educational, and mental health functioning, trauma-informed skills are critical across a number of disciplines at UR which are specifically training the next generation of practitioners serving individuals impacted by trauma (e.g., interviewing skills, traumainformed teaching, identifying signs of trauma, etc.).

a.  To this end, a second goal of our FLC will be to share our current practices and explore opportunities for efficiencies and innovations related to teaching future attorneys, educators, and direct care workers (e.g., social workers, psychologists) trauma-informed clinical interviewing and assessment skills; potentially including the use of a workshop or speaker

3)      Third, although trauma does not discriminate in the broadest sense, there are complex intersections between traumatic stress and other social issues including poverty, racism, and gender/sexuality.

a.  To this end, a third goal of our FLC will be to foster research collaborations that take into account these intersections—for example, creating a research collaboration between individuals studying traumatic stress and discrimination on campus. We will also discuss common research issues in the area of traumatic stress, including best practices in assessment and ethics

4)    Finally, UR students, staff, and faculty are not immune to the impact of trauma—in fact, accidents and suicide are the most common causes of death during the age range of 18-24, and sexual assault risk is notable at residential colleges. Further, traumatic stress may serve as a barrier to educational attainment for a number of marginalized groups (e.g., incarcerated individuals; youth exiting the foster care system).

a.  To this end, a fourth goal of our FLC will be to apply our shared knowledge base to issues related to traumatic stress on campus, including violence prevention, response, and awareness, and consider on-campus initiatives for students, staff, and faculty (e.g., debate concepts such as trigger warnings, discuss on-campus group offerings and staff/faculty well-being initiatives) and recruitment and retention initiatives for marginalized groups shouldering a disproportionate burden of traumatic stress.