Developing Best Practices for Trauma-Informed Teaching and Learning (2022-2023)


Stress associated with trauma is likely present in every student gathering at Duke University – not only in each student organization and residence hall, but also in every classroom and laboratory. Students bring experiences of past trauma with them and also experience diverse forms of stressors and trauma while at Duke, including sexual assault. In a 2018 survey, 47.8% of Duke undergraduate women reported unwanted sexual contact since matriculating.

While in recent years Duke has invested heavily in providing high-quality mental health and support services to trauma survivors and curbing the rate of campus sexual assault, there is a need to attend carefully to how stress and trauma show up in classrooms and academic programs. Students who are trauma survivors bring essential insights and perspectives to classroom contexts but may also experience academic challenges. 

Trauma survivors may respond strongly to particular texts, topics or contexts that evoke memories of trauma and stress. Faculty may wonder how to foster a learning environment in which all students can thrive and may be uncertain about how to manage trauma-related content in the classroom (such as in the case of conflicting information about “trigger warnings”). There is a clear need for trauma-informed education for students and faculty that will explore the ways that trauma shows up in the classroom, increase empathy for those who are struggling and promote a positive learning experience.

Project Description

This project team will develop and implement seminars for students and faculty on trauma-engaged teaching and learning and will collect data to inform future efforts to better support trauma survivors in the classroom. 

Building on the work of the 2021-2022 team, which conducted focus groups among undergraduate students in Trinity and Pratt and graduate students in Divinity and the School of Medicine, this team will learn about trauma-informed teaching practices at Duke and work toward supporting and building a trauma-informed educational culture. Throughout the year, team members will engage in:

  • Ongoing qualitative analysis of the student focus group data, in order to identify salient research findings and to share these both at Duke and beyond, through publication.
  • Implementation of focus groups for faculty within Duke’s undergraduate schools, the Divinity School, and the School of Medicine, exploring how faculty members experience and address the topic of trauma in the classroom. (While students will not participate directly in these faculty focus groups, they will be involved in designing them and in analyzing and interpreting data.)
  • Implementation of Trauma Engaged Duke seminars throughout the university to further educate students and faculty on trauma and its widespread effects.
  • Formation of a working group, comprised of team members and other university leaders, that will draw on focus group research findings and other literature to identify and implement best practices for trauma-informed teaching and learning at Duke. 

Anticipated Outputs

Primary qualitative data; academic articles on trauma-informed undergraduate education, theological education and medical education

Student Opportunities

Ideally, this team will include 4 graduate students and 4-6 undergraduate students. Undergraduate members may come from any academic program but must bring an interest in understanding trauma and its effects on education, and a passion for working toward a just teaching and learning culture at Duke where all students can flourish. Master’s- and doctoral-level students from the Divinity School, the Graduate School and the School of Medicine will speak from their own professional and educational contexts. Students with training and interest in qualitative research methods are especially encouraged to apply. 

Students, staff and faculty will work together in team meetings to learn about how the effects of trauma can affect the learning environment for survivors and others. All students will be involved in data analysis, research synthesis and dissemination efforts. Students will also be invited, as opportunity arises, to participate in leading Trauma Engaged Duke seminars for students and faculty.

Students will emerge from this project with deep theoretical and practical understanding of trauma theory, how living with trauma can affect learning and education and the principles of trauma-informed teaching practices. Undergraduate students will learn to teach other students about trauma, speak to faculty about students’ experiences, participate in project design and data analysis, and contribute to papers as appropriate. Graduate students will explore trauma-informed pedagogy in their own academic contexts, participate in project design and analysis, and contribute to papers as appropriate. All team members will learn how to design interview questions for focus groups and collect and synthesize qualitative data. Divinity students, in particular, will become better prepared to work with difficult topics such as biblical texts of violence, wartime ethics and pastoral care contexts of trauma.

A postdoctoral fellow in psychology will serve as project manager. 


Fall 2022 – Spring 2023

  • Fall 2022: Conduct multiple faculty focus groups; transcribe and analyze data; engage university stakeholders conduct trauma literature review; assist with writing article based on qualitative data from project; provide Trauma Engaged Duke events
  • Spring 2023: Transcribe and analyze faculty focus group data; engage university stakeholders to develop an action plan; conduct trauma literature review; assist with writing article based on qualitative data from project 


Academic credit available for fall and spring semesters

See earlier related team, Developing Best Practices for Trauma-informed Teaching and Learning (2021-2022).


Image: Duke University first-year medical students listen to a lecture about the brain in the Learning Hall of the Trent Semans Center, by Jared Lazarus/Duke Photography

Image: Duke University first-year medical students listen to a lecture about the brain in the Learning Hall of the Trent Semans.

Team Leaders

  • Jan Holton, Divinity School
  • Warren Kinghorn, Divinity School|School of Medicine-Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Anna Greenleaf, Psychology (BS), Statistical Science (AB2)
  • Christina Lewis
  • Molly Pluenneke, Psychology (AB), Global Health (AB2)
  • Timothy Wilkinson
  • Maya Yelle

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Stephanie Hargrove, School of Medicine-Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
  • Noga Zerubavel, School of Medicine-Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences