Trauma Recognition in Law Schools
Trauma Recognition Presentation slides available for educational trainings.
Studying the law often involves studying harm. Law students read countless cases where something terrible, tragic, or traumatic has happened, and they must consider how to use the law to find a remedy. Many students have experienced traumatic events before (or during) law school; they may be survivors of child abuse and/or child sexual abuse, intimate partner abuse, rape, and/or sexual assault; they may have been targeted or harmed because of their race, gender, or sexual orientation; they may have experienced or witnessed violence by the police, immigration enforcement, and/or other state institutions; some of them have witnessed abuse of or by their parents as children, violence in their community; and some may have had someone close to them die unexpectedly through homicide, suicide, or otherwise painful deaths, or have experienced any number of other forms of trauma. A traumatizing event may even be one of the reasons they chose to enter law school in the first place, in an effort to increase access to justice for other trauma survivors.
Students who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) often face significant barriers to learning. When someone with PTSD is triggered, his/her brain moves from a normal “information-processing” state to a survival-oriented, reactive “alarm state.” Whereas professors generally know they should accommodate physical disabilities, schools are rarely as supportive of students with psychological While there are a variety of ways that students may be triggered in law school, there are strategies professors can use to minimize student PTSD episodes, and, ideally, enable all law students to succeed.
Professors wield an enormous amount of power in law schools and can play an important role both in understanding and seeking ways to help traumatized students. Faculty members have the ability to spot potential issues and the opportunity to adjust their pedagogy and class structure. Content warnings and other trauma recognition practices enable a more accessible discussion of material that may otherwise create special challenges for students with PTSD. Thus, professors can facilitate learning and intellectual development by first and foremost employing strategies to create more inclusive, equitable classrooms.
 Violence: Trauma is the Common Denominator, Healing is the Common Goal, National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence, (Apr. 19, 2005), http://www.ncdsv.org/images/WitJus_DenominatorHealingCommonGoal.pdf.