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Fostering a safe learning space for higher education students who experience trauma

Tricia Shalka, associate professor at the Warner School of Education, is an esteemed expert on trauma among college students. Her research explores the implications of traumatic experiences on student learning and best practices for educators to help students with trauma succeed.

In her research, Shalka aims to explore how trauma impacts students’ relationships, identities, and education as they navigate the college environment. “What I found was that experiencing trauma as a college student changes how you move through these campus spaces,” says Shalka, who teaches in the Warner School’s higher education master’s and doctoral programs. “Students may alter how they move around campus, their schedules and seating arrangements, and even avoid class, to steer clear of potential triggers.”

She uses her research to cultivate safer campus environments for students of all backgrounds who are affected by trauma. In faculty workshops, Shalka discusses trauma-informed practices, informing faculty about how trauma manifests in classroom settings and sharing strategies for helping struggling students feel more comfortable. 

At the Warner School, students come from all different backgrounds, bringing new perspectives to its programs. “I think that prospective students would find that we’re very open and approachable. That’s one of the strong points of Warner,” Shalka says. She adds, “Our personal experiences can really only take us so far, and when we get to the edges of those personal experiences, we need other ways of understanding how somebody else might be experiencing a particular situation.”

Shalka has a new book, Cultivating Trauma-Informed Practice in Student Affairs (Routledge, October 2023), that will serve as a resource for student affairs practitioners, university administrators, and college-level educators supporting students to understand the implications of trauma and how to cultivate a trauma-informed higher education experience through intentional student affairs work.