Confronting Academic Violence: The Role of Professors in Trauma-Informed Conversations

By Qudsia Saeed, Class of 2024

As a senior in the School of Education and a first-generation student of color, I have witnessed firsthand the challenges posed by academic violence in predominantly white institutions. These experiences have fueled my dedication to creating a balanced educational environment. American University, similar to other higher education institutions, favors perspectives that align with whiteness, thereby marginalizing minority viewpoints. This bias is not restricted to the classroom but reflects a more significant societal issue of the weaponization of truth. In many academic settings, the ‘normative’ truth is implicitly safeguarded, leading to a skewed representation of history, culture, and knowledge. This approach suppresses diverse experiences, maintaining power structures detrimental to an inclusive learning environment. I argue that acknowledging and valuing the diversity of human experiences and knowledge is essential to dismantling academic violence and cultivating academic safety. This personal journey leads me to a broader discussion on what constitutes academic violence.

Defining Academic Violence

Academic violence extends beyond direct acts of discrimination and hostility, subtly manifesting through biased curriculum choices and teaching methods that overlook diverse approaches to learning.

Comprehensive Strategies to Counter Academic Violence

  • Comprehensive Curriculum Review: Regular and thorough curriculum audits are essential. This should involve removing biased or outdated content and actively seeking out and incorporating diverse voices and perspectives. It’s about creating a curriculum that reflects a global perspective and prepares students for a diverse world.
  • Inclusive Teaching Methodologies: Adopting teaching methodologies that cater to different approaches to learning and backgrounds is crucial. This might include a mix of lectures, interactive sessions, group work, and technology-enhanced learning, ensuring that all students, regardless of their learning preferences, can engage effectively with the course material.
  • Continuous Professional Development for Educators: Educators should engage in ongoing professional development to better understand and implement inclusive teaching practices. Workshops on cultural sensitivity, inclusive pedagogy, and unconscious bias can be immensely beneficial.
  • Empowering Student Voices: Creating platforms where students can express their views and experiences regarding the inclusivity of their education is vital. This could be through student councils, focus groups, or regular meetings with faculty and administration.

Ensuring Academic Safety

Creating and maintaining a safe academic environment is fundamental for effective learning and personal development in higher education. Academic safety encompasses several key dimensions:

  • Physical Safety on Campus: Institutions must ensure their physical environments are secure. This involves implementing robust security measures such as adequately lit walkways, secure building access, and emergency response protocols.
  • Psychological Safety in Learning Environments: It’s crucial to foster an atmosphere where students feel comfortable expressing their ideas and concerns. This means establishing classrooms as spaces free from harassment, bullying, or any form of psychological harm. Educators should be trained to identify signs of psychological distress and know how to refer students to appropriate support services.
  • Intellectual Safety and Freedom: Academic safety also involves protecting the intellectual freedom of students and faculty. This includes encouraging open and respectful dialogues on various topics ensuring that students can explore and express diverse viewpoints without fear of censorship or undue criticism.
  • Reporting Mechanisms and Support Systems: Establishing clear and accessible reporting mechanisms for students and staff to raise safety concerns is vital. This should be coupled with strong support systems, including counseling services, legal advice, and academic support.

The Role of Professors in Facilitating Difficult Conversations

The role of professors is pivotal in bridging theory with practice, especially in navigating the complexities of difficult conversations in the classroom. These conversations, often centered around sensitive or controversial topics, are vital for students’ intellectual and emotional growth. Professors must skillfully navigate these discussions, ensuring they are productive, respectful, and enlightening.

  • Preparing for Difficult Conversations
    • Educational Preparation: Professors should be well-versed in the topics of discussion, understanding the theoretical frameworks and the practical implications.
    • Setting Ground Rules: Establishing clear ground rules for discussions to maintain a respectful and productive environment.
    • Positionality: Professors must be aware of their biases and perspectives and how these may influence the conversation.
  • Facilitating the Conversation
    • Encouraging Diverse Perspectives: Actively encouraging students to share diverse viewpoints and experiences.
    • Active Listening: Demonstrating active listening to model and encourage empathetic engagement.
    • Critical Thinking: Guiding students to engage critically with the material and the viewpoints.
    • Balancing Participation: Ensuring that all students have the opportunity to participate and that dominant voices do not overshadow others.
  • Bridging Theory and Practice
    • Real-World Applications: Connecting theoretical concepts to real-world scenarios to enhance students’ understanding of the material’s practical relevance.
    • Guest Speakers and Field Trips: Inviting guest speakers or organizing field trips can provide practical insights and real-life perspectives.
  • Reflecting Post-Discussion
    • Debriefing: Holding debriefing sessions post-discussion to reflect on what was learned and address any lingering questions or concerns.
    • Feedback: Soliciting feedback from students on the discussion process to continuously improve teaching strategies.

Addressing Sensitive Topics with Care

  • Trauma-Informed Approaches: Adopting trauma-informed approaches to teaching and discussion can help in sensitively handling topics that might be triggering for some students. Here is a comprehensive resource from CTRL: Trauma-Informed Pedagogy
  • Encouraging Critical Thinking: Teaching students critical thinking skills can enable them to engage with sensitive topics in a more thoughtful and analytical manner.

Ongoing Improvement and Adaptation

  • Feedback-Driven Improvement: Creating mechanisms for regular feedback from students and faculty can help continuously improve and adapt teaching methods and curricula to meet the evolving needs of the student body.
  • Collaboration: Collaborating with other professors to share best practices, resources, and experiences can greatly enhance the effectiveness of efforts to combat academic violence.

Principles of Trauma-Informed Instruction

  • Safety: Ensuring students’ physical and emotional safety is paramount. This includes creating a learning environment where students feel safe to express themselves and engage with the material.
  • Trustworthiness and Transparency: Building trust with students through clear communication, consistent policies, and transparency in educational practices.
  • Collaboration and Mutuality: Promoting shared decision-making and collaboration between educators and students to empower students in their learning process.
  • Empowerment and Choice: Providing students with choices and control over their learning experience to empower them and validate their experiences.
  • Cultural, Historical, and Gender Sensitivity: Being aware of and sensitive to the cultural, historical, and gender-related issues that may affect students and influence their educational experience.

Implementing Trauma-Informed Practices

  • Incorporating flexibility in teaching and assessment methods to accommodate the diverse needs of students.
  • Offering resources and support for students dealing with trauma, such as counseling services and academic accommodations.


Addressing academic violence and harm in higher education requires a deep commitment to change, continuous improvement, and a willingness to embrace new ideas and perspectives. By adopting these comprehensive strategies, educational institutions can create a more inclusive, supportive, and enriching learning environment for all students.