March 20, 2016

From Jen Smith, School of Social Work Intern, Portland State University

It was my first day of graduate school when the class was asked to go around in a circle and say what brought us to the field of social work. Other than getting nervous to speak in front new people, I really didn’t think much of the exercise. However, as my classmates went around and told stories about their family’s struggles with mental health, histories of homelessness or addiction, and the barriers of being a first generation immigrant or person of color, I knew that this program was going to be different. Unlike classes I had taken in the past, social work was personal. Following this exercise, I thought a lot about trauma and the impact a social work program could have on people with intimate histories with it.

It was around this time when I started hearing about trauma informed care. It had become a buzzword at the school, and I was interested to learn more about what it all meant. When I sat in a trauma informed training for the first time last April, I couldn’t help but think about the classroom that day, and how it might have looked or felt different if it were facilitated through a trauma informed lens.

This year I have been interning at Trauma Informed Oregon and have had the opportunity to further explore these questions both at my internship and with the School of Social Work at Portland State University. I was surprised to find that while knowledge exists about trauma and people in the human service professions, very little information is out there on college/university level students going into the field of social work, or trauma informed care in classrooms of higher education in general.

In November I surveyed almost 40 students in my program on how they felt trauma informed care could be better integrated into the classroom settings at Portland State. I combined their feedback with known research on trauma informed care in k-­12 schools, and developed this TIP sheet that hopefully gives educators a place to begin. Next month, the School of Social Work will host its first trauma informed care community training. This is a very exciting opportunity to gather together a group of students and staff to begin conversations around what trauma informed care could look like in university level classrooms. It is my hope that someday histories of trauma no longer create barriers for teachers and students to learn and grow in the classroom, including those of higher education.