Equity-Centered Trauma-Informed Education Reflection

Equity-Centered Trauma-Informed Education Reflection

When considering and enacting asset pedagogies, such as open pedagogy and culturally sustaining pedagogy (CSP), we often focus on single classrooms rather than systems/structures. CSP acknowledges and addresses “communities who have been and continue to be damaged and erased through schooling” (Paris & Alim). Equity-centered trauma-informed education, as conceived by Alex Shevrin Venet, recognizes that schooling plays a role “in causing and worsening trauma because of the role of schools in perpetuating oppression.” After reading “Defining Trauma-Informed Education” (sent by email), reflect on the following questions in the comments field below: 

thumbnail of cover of book entitled Equity-Centered Trauma-Informed Education
  • How might engaging with systems/structures identified in CSP and trauma-informed education influence what we do in our classrooms with our students?
  • How might engaging with these systems/structures influence the design of your open pedagogy assignments?
  • What practices at BMCC and/or in our departments and classes possibly replicate/cause trauma?


  1. For myself, I see all our work here in Professional Development through the lens of Trauma Pedagogy. It rings with me for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, was being asked to leave Acting Conservatory when I was twenty because of “insufficient development of professional potential” (you’ll note that 38 years later I still remember the exact phrase —- and the sting it carried). At the time I carried all the hallmarks of trauma described in the article; “anger, anxiety, aggression, hypervigilance”. At that institution there was no interest in helping students find a way through for themselves; the focus was on the institutional imperative to produce professionals, however that came about.

    From this experience, and many others both physical and mental, I have come to believe that we are all deeply informed by trauma. Not simply the trauma of the pandemic, although that is paramount for many at this time. There are endless, deeper traumas that we have all experienced through the course of our lifetimes and educations that color every thought, every action, every attitude we bring to bear at any given moment. I believe this is true not simply in the educational arena but in all aspects of life.

    The article denotes the role of racism, xenophobia, and gender-phobia (probably the wrong term) in structural creation of trauma within educational institutions but I posit that it goes deeper than that, and is much farther ranging that simply those subject to racism and bullying. I believe our educational system is, for the most part, designed to instill trauma in our students by the very nature of its structure. It’s important to remember that this system we teach within was initially formed to create workers for the needs of the Industrial Revolution, in other words create workers to do the work that was required to fuel the economic expansion into the 20th century. Within this model, there is no room for the individual; it’s all about building “worker bees” to accomplish tasks. In the case of colleges, tasks that involve reading, writing, and some level of higher order thinking.

    As we all know, find ourselves in a new world. As the article states, we as educators have a direct role to play in de-traumatizing the educational process for our students. The article makes clear the connection between Anti-Racist practice and lessening that trauma. “Potential paths to recovery” can be seen in the article’s call to action to use “equity-centered trauma-informed” educational practice. The denotation of pro-activity, unconditional student-regard (which is different I point out from acceptance of unacceptable behavior; the person is valued even if the behavior is not), personal responsibility to accept and grow in these practices, turning our classrooms into laboratories in which we create partnership with our students in the process of change both in the classroom and in the world are all the basic building blocks of this work. As the article says, it all adds up to making social justice the first and foremost priority in all our work. From there we can begin to have an impact on trauma, racism, xenophobia, bullying, and all the other hateful things we encounter in our travels.

  2. Anthony Naaeke

    I have been traumatized as a faculty in a private 4year institution. After 5 years of positive annual reviews my 6th annual review contained negative observations that did not tally with peer observation and student course evaluations. I was the only BLACK male professor with only one black female professor in the institution. After receiving the negative recommendation form the division chair about possible tenure, all the White professors came to say how sorry they were about what the division chair had done but when I asked them to write something in defense of me they all refused. The only people who defended my teaching, scholarship and service were a Chinese History professor, Palestinian International studies professor and the black female professor. ALL White professors refused to come to my defense including the Provost who offered to write a letter of recommendation for me in case I needed one. So this discussion depends on the kind of institution we are dealing with. White, private institutions from my experience use minorities to check a box without any intention of keeping them for a long term (my experience). It’s easier to change structures at BMCC where we have a president who is black and majority of our students are Hispanic and Black.
    2. The effort has to start at the departmental level
    3. Our current bylaws give too much power to department chairs

  3. Ricaute Rogers

    I continue to believe that equity in the classroom is not possible today. So often, the economically disadvantage students have to work much harder to succeed. Let’s take for example, I teach CIS 100 (Computer Applications). This class requires a computer, and the purchase of a software to complete the assignments. During normal circumstances, students without a computer can go to the library to complete their assignments. During Covid-19, the situation was aggravated for those students. BMCC provided them with Google tablet which was off no use. These students were placed in a situation of either purchasing a computer or dropping the class. Students who had the means would easily purchase the required material.

  4. Adrienne Urbanski

    Even though I was fortunate to grow up with some privileges that many of our students do not have, I still have had traumatic experiences with teachers and instructors who perhaps lacked enough emotional intelligence to not take out their own traumas and grudges on their students, and I did not feel like I could stand up for myself as a student. I remember these experiences far more clearly than the many more positive and affirming experiences that I had in my education, and these experiences have greatly informed how I communicate with my students and how I feel a need to support them and make them feel capable even if their skills are not at the level I would like them to be.

    I try to listen to my students and assist them with the struggles that they are having. If it’s not something I myself can tackle, then I refer them resources within the college to assist them. I especially try to utilize culturally sustaining practices within the classroom and try to use texts that speak to marginalized identities. As our students come from incredibly diverse backgrounds, some of them may be from countries where they are not familiar with the concepts of racism, homophobia, and sexism. Hopefully, through my classes students can gain a better understanding and acceptance of those around them, and the students who are a part of marginalized identities can feel a bit more seen and empowered.

    By utilizing assignments that can be submitted in different modalities students who are ESL or who are struggling with mastering such skills as research and source citation can find a more empowering way to approach the assignment. By focusing on identity as part of these assignments, students can also feel more empowered and recognized and also not see their differences as hindrances.

    As someone who was a college student in the past, I know that administrative offices can often be dismissive to students who are seeking assistance and often respond to requests with anger. Students who are already facing difficulties in their lives can be even further discouraged by the behavior of those who they encounter within the campus. Professors who are overly harsh, strict, and critical can also be discouraging to students who are struggling or who have had prior negative experiences with those in authority positions. Some students (and professors) can also come to class with ignorant opinions regarding race, class, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, etc. and might make comments or raise arguments that are potentially further damaging to students. As instructors, it is important that we try to set boundaries in our class and establish a safe environment where students feel supported and not attacked during class discussions.

  5. As educators, we have a role in helping students learn, but when students focus so much on their grades, they may not be able to learn what I intend for them, and their grades reflect that. When students feel at the outset that they are not going to do well in class, the challenge is to convince them that it is possible. Sometimes, there is trauma in that as well. Giving students various ways to participate is a method I use to help them learn in my class. But since CUNY has a policy that doesn’t recognize mere presence as attendance, I remind students to participate. But when they do not, I’m torn between asking them questions in class (which puts them on the spot) or just letting them be (which hurts their grades because class participation cannot be made up after the fact). So next time, I plan to have students give me permission to call on them during class if I know they haven’t said anything in class so that they can demonstrate their participation.

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