Home Trauma-Informed Practice & Care Using Trauma-Informed Practice & Care on Campus

Using Trauma-Informed Practice & Care on Campus

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The following section will offer readers a chance to reflect on the variety of spaces and contexts on campus and how trauma-informed practice & care can be brought into each of them. We will reference examples and offer conversation prompts with specific wording. These guidelines and recommendations are meant to be applied to students as well as staff/ faculty, as everyone involved in post-secondary spaces can benefit from being treated with a trauma-informed lens.

*A note on the above… To truly be trauma-informed, staff/ faculty must actively listen to their students, be flexible, and adapt their approach based on the individual and their needs. The examples below may or may not work depending on the individual and are in no way intended to be an exhaustive list on how to interpret the core values of trauma-informed practice & care.

Active Listening means being deeply engaged in and attentive to what the speaker is saying.” (Office of the Ombuds, Boston University, 2016). For further reading on Active Listening and its components, see this handout


In the following section we will discuss how to bring trauma-informed practice & care to the relationship between supervisors and the staff they manage. This section will make a particular distinction between managing student-staff (students who both attend and work for an institution simultaneously) and campus staff (non-students). Throughout this section we invite the reader to reflect on the power dynamics inherent in supervisor/employee relationships. To learn more about power dynamics, please review our two-part toolkit on Anti-Oppressive Practice. Part 1, Part 2.

Supervising/ Managing Campus Staff

There are numerous benefits to approaching staff supervision with a trauma-informed lens. Staff are more likely to feel safe, empowered, and have trust in the organization when exposed to this methodology, which can positively impact both performance and retention (Singh et al., 2013; Varghese et al., 2018). Additionally, when staff are exposed to trauma-informed practice & care, they are more likely to embody this approach with the students they serve, the colleagues with whom they collaborate, and the students they supervise (SAMHSA, 2014). This embodiment benefits the entire campus community.

Supervisor-employee relationships exist within a power structure where supervisors hold power and employees do not (Li et al., 2017). This dynamic can be especially challenging for survivors of trauma who benefit from safe, trusting, and collaborative relationships. To ensure that the power shifts with intention and care, supervisors must be self-aware and share power willingly. Below, Table 1 offers trauma-informed communicative tips for supervisors, and Table 2 provides actionable trauma-informed strategies. Both are non-exhaustive.

Supervising/ Managing Student-Staff

Students often have many competing priorities in their lives beyond the demands of school. Supervisors have the power to support them by nurturing their talents, respecting their autonomy, setting them up for success, and making them feel heard, seen, and respected. To ensure student-staff get the most out of their campus work experiences, there are several key practices to keep in mind:

Give students the benefit of the doubt.

Give them chances to succeed and, most importantly, provide them access to the resources needed to succeed. Providing resources and advice can go a long way in helping students reach their personal and professional goals.

Make them aware of the resources available to them.

If students are not aware of the available resources, they may face a barrier in their ability to achieve expected outcomes or may find their task harder than necessary to accomplish. Create or find a resource list/directory from your institution and include this within a welcome or onboarding package, referencing it frequently so that it remains top of mind. Resources could include mental health supports available on campus or student services such as career advising.

Whenever possible, rethink your processes and give students choice in how and when they can participate.

Try co-creating schedules, meeting times, and determining what tasks or meetings can be completed remotely. Acknowledge that student-staff’s time and efforts are just as valuable as full-time staff. Ensure that scheduling is accommodating of their other involvements both on and off campus.

Be respectful.

Use the name(s) and pronouns that your students introduce themselves with and respect their identities. Consider religious holidays or daily periods of worship when you plan trainings and meetings. Demonstrate that you value their unique identities and what their lived experiences bring to the role.

Do your best to make them feel heard and understood.

They want to feel heard, seen, and supported. You might not always be able to provide the exact care or support they need, but you can be empathetic and guide them in the direction of supports that may help.

Help them understand the expectations.

Understanding their role and responsibilities informs them of what is and is not in scope so that they have a chance to perform at the level that is necessary. Provide feedback so students can concretely understand where they can improve and what they are doing well. Frame “failure” as an opportunity to reflect and reassess what support or tools are needed. Seek feedback for yourself so that you can learn how to be a better supervisor and provide for the needs of your current team. Seeking feedback can be complex and challenging as there is a fixed power dynamic between yourself and the student-staff. Consider giving your staff opportunities to submit anonymous feedback and ensure your staff knows the policy and procedure for bringing their concerns to Human Resources. Lastly, demonstrating to your staff that you take feedback seriously and will not retaliate is crucial in creating pathways for continuous improvement.

Build a supportive environment and community.

Provide encouragement, celebrate small and large wins, and foster a community where all team members encourage and support one another. Validation and reassurance from multiple sources can help students overcome imposter syndrome and gain confidence in who they are and their abilities.

Create a positive atmosphere by providing individual and team check-ins to promote individual
and team reflection and opportunities to get to know one another, and actively recognize individual and team strengths. Small things like passing around birthday cards for team members to sign or starting meetings with icebreakers like “What is something going well for you this week?” or “What is something that you appreciate about your fellow team members?” gives everyone a chance to be celebrated for their growth and efforts, makes the environment more fun, and makes the learning experience more rewarding.

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Guide: PDF Version