making yr classroom a safe(r) space for survivors
i had a really triggering experience in class today & the way it was handled ended up escalating the situation. as a student & survivor/person with a disability, being in college has been a difficult experience for me overall. after what happened today, i felt that i needed to begin a dialogue about how to make classrooms safe(r) spaces for students with possible solutions that don’t rely upon administrative structures such as disability support, which i will (attempt to) explain briefly below.
at my university, the disability support services (dss) works something like this: your psychiatrist/therapist/social worker/etc. (assuming you can afford one/has access to one,) writes a letter detailing the accommodations you need which is forwarded to dss. you arrange an interview with dss which serves to “prove” you really need these accommodations & then if they deem that you do, they write a letter to give to your professors, which they must sign & then you must return to dss. this process has to be redone every year. needless to say, it’s deeply ableist, stressful, time-consuming, & completely inaccessible if you can’t afford a mental health professional.
i have begun a list of guidelines for college educators that explain how to begin making classrooms safe(r) spaces for survivors:
- remember that while the material may be “just an article” for some students, for other students, these are not abstract theories: they are our lives.
- provide trigger warnings for potentially triggering content (i.e. articles, books, videos, etc.,) on the syllabus. in addition, provide students with advance notice when you will be lecturing on or discussing potentially triggering material in class.
- if a student leaves class, check in with them after class via e-mail. offer them an opportunity to come in & talk w/ you or have a general conversation about what happened/was going on. do not confront them in front of the class or follow them out of class; if a situation is triggering enough for a student to need to leave for their own safety, such actions could escalate the situation.
- provide students with alternative assignments, texts, extra credit opportunities, etc. to account for any classes or material they may have missed due to the nature of the content. this can be individualized for each student, as we all have different needs, via an informal conversation.
- value your students’ safety over your authority as an educator.
- include a statement on your syllabus indicating your intention to make your classroom a safe(r) space & that you are willing to actively work with students to make this happen.
- to other survivors: please feel free to add yr own suggestions & ideas, about what has/hasn’t worked for you, etc.