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A trauma-informed approach to difficult course material: Part 2

Taking a trauma-informed approach includes being intentional about your own learning journey - picking up what you want to take and releasing that which does not serve you.
Published March 31, 2020 by Julia Lane

As a follow up to the interview with Dr. Elise Chenier that I shared last week, this blog post delves more deeply into the trauma-informed learning approach shared by Jennifer-Lee Koble and Jennifer Dehoney in my History 436 class, which focuses on reading Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

We were introduced to Jennifer-Lee Koble and Jennifer Dehoney in our second week of class. They co-facilitated an Indigenous Cultural Safety & Healing-Centered Engagement workshop with our class. These facilitators used a trauma-informed approach that supports the restoration of students’ well-being when they are introduced to traumatic subjects in class. A few subjects that we covered during the workshop were the residential schools, the sixties scoop, forced sterilization of Indigenous women, and the Indian Act. All of these topics weigh heavy on your heart, as does the focus on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls that informs our whole course.

At this point in the semester, I have learned that it is okay to be vulnerable. In our interview, Professor Chenier mentioned how professors are supposed to appear “professorial”; however, I have really appreciated her admissions of vulnerability in class. I can only speak for myself when I say that when I look at professors, I forget that they were once students like me, or that they are humans with emotions. I don’t know why, but for some reason, I think that they have done it all and because they have experienced more than I have, their skin is made of steel.

As the class sat in a circle, Professor Chenier and the facilitators included, I noticed that there was no hierarchy and that we were on this journey of learning and being vulnerable together. Another thing I learned from being vulnerable is that it is okay to feel the physical effects of the traumatic subject. I usually hate that feeling. Typically, it’s a knot in my stomach that makes me want to throw-up. However, the facilitators reassured me that this feeling comes from a place of understanding and, I guess, a place of love.

Since I really care about the world I live in and the country I reside in, it’s okay for me to want to see it in a better light. The last thing I would like to say about this workshop is that I appreciated how we got to speak about what we want to learn or discover in the beginning, and how we ended the workshop with what we took away from it. As a student, sometimes you become a robot. You sit in your chair and begin jotting down everything your professor writes and says. This part of the workshop reminded me that I should take the time to address what I expect for my learning journey and address the bigger picture of what I learned from whatever lecture I am in.

A trauma-informed approach to difficult course material: Self-care tips

  1. It is okay to be vulnerable when learning about difficult material.
  2. Although professors appear professional, or rather, professorial, understand that they are human too. In particular, they have emotions and they may be just as affected by the material as you are.
  3. Despite common understandings of classroom dynamics, there does not have to be a rigid hierarchy. We as students are on this journey of learning and being vulnerable with our instructors as well.
  4. As you explore your vulnerability, be open to feeling the physical effects of the traumatic subject.
  5. In beginning and ending of your classes, take the time to address what you expect for your learning journey and address the bigger picture of what you learned.
  6. Take care of yourself by doing whatever makes you happy.
  7. Reach out to your peers, even if it can feel scary to do so. Often, they are feeling the same way you are, or can empathize with your experience
  8. Ask for help, even when you are not sure. If you feel uncomfortable speaking to your instructor or teacher assistant, use SFU’s many resources. A good one in particular is the app, My SSP.

- Ashley K.