Hands in the colors of the rainbow reaching towards a red heart

In her article entitled “Trauma Impacts Adult Learners: Here’s Why,” Karen Gross states that we live in a world surrounded by trauma, with all evidence concluding that trauma “affects the capacity of individuals of all ages to learn and retain information.” As we have seen the COVID-19 pandemic reveal the layers of inequality in our systems, we have also seen that some learners in our programs have little or no protection against the economic and psychological damage wrought by this crisis. Black and brown adults, and especially black and brown women, are disproportionately at risk. The effects of being frontline workers, losing paychecks, facing eviction or experiencing death in family and community, are all potential triggers for heightened traumatic responses. This is on top of the trauma felt by communities that are consistently marginalized, under-represented, and under-resourced. When these same adults are our students, we carry the responsibility to use trauma-informed teaching, advising, and program-wide practices so that all learners have an equitable opportunity to learn and pursue their education and career goals. Using trauma-informed practices is an integral part of enacting our values of diversity, equity, and inclusion.

What You Can Do Now

Use this Trauma-Informed Educational Checklist, based on the Massachusetts Flexible Framework for Implementing Trauma Informed Educational Programs, to identify where you want to develop more trauma-informed practices. The PSPDC offered a session on Trauma-Informed Programmatic and Advising Practices with Erin Connor OT, MA OTR. In this session, Erin introduced a checklist and talked about the importance of having program-wide trauma-informed practices where all staff are on the same page about referral practices, language usage, etc. Areas on the program checklist include program culture and infrastructure, staff training, links to mental health agencies, academic and non-academic strategies, and school policies and procedures.

  1. Your program team can complete the checklist together. The evidence that you present in each of these areas will allow for conversations about and creation of new procedures to increase compliance with trauma-informed practices.
  2. Leadership (including program directors and/or administration) can develop and implement an action plan, identify barriers to progress, and evaluate success.
  3. Establish clear referral practices and share with all staff. Policies describe a consistent and equitable process for how, when, and where to refer students for mental health supports. Make sure mental health services are linguistically appropriate and culturally competent.
  4. Establish a program-wide check-in for staff well-being. Encourage self-care strategies and normalize the effects of vicarious trauma or compassion fatigue.
  5. Access this Trauma-Informed Teaching Advising and Learning Resource Packet, which includes numerous links to information websites, research papers, and fact sheets on trauma, the impact of trauma on learning, and guidance on designing programming that supports trauma survivors.


Gross, K. (2019) Trauma Impacts Adult Learners: Here’s Why. Retrieved from: The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning



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