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Trauma and Multi-Faith Engagement

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What is Trauma-Informed Care?

Trauma-Informed Care understands and considers the pervasive nature of trauma and promotes environments of healing and…

Guiding principles of trauma informed care:

“The Five Guiding Principles are; safety, choice, collaboration, trustworthiness and empowerment. Ensuring that the physical and emotional safety of an individual is addressed is the first important step to providing Trauma-Informed Care. Next, the individual needs to know that the provider is trustworthy. Trustworthiness can be evident in the establishment and consistency of boundaries and the clarity of what is expected in regards to tasks. Additionally, the more choices an individual has and the more control they have over their service experience through a collaborative effort with service providers, the more likely the individual will participate in services and the more effective the services may be. Finally, focusing on an individual’s strengths and empowering them to build on those strengths while developing stronger coping skills provides a healthy foundation for individuals to fall back on if and when they stop receiving services.”

Grief is one of the greatest acts of love we show for our beloveds. I have spent much of my career working with communities who have experienced violence, and the stewarding of the emotional and spiritual lives of those who are left behind is a sacred act of care and witness. I’ve recently written about what it means to be a professor in times of trauma. In this essay I will reflect on doing work with students in times of trauma. 


The Ones Left Standing: Guilt of Survivors 

This emotional state often comes up in the work I do on campus-based engagement around spirituality and faith, and the questions raised are theological: Why was I meant to survive this tragedy? How can I continue and carry on the legacy of my beloveds *and* the spiritual lineages of those who have passed? 

These questions raise spiritual and ethical considerations when working with students. It becomes important to draw on the empowerment component of trauma-informed care. We can ensure that our mental health services on campus are aware of the profound existential issues some of our students face that are related to the trauma and loss of an individual, and we can also talk about what it means to carry the responsibility of a spiritual or religious community. 

What are mechanisms for students to build memories that honor the histories of their communities? What are ways they can develop agency to share the joy, teachings, wisdom and rituals they were connected to? Grief here is not just individual, it is collective. It is an act that cries out to the universe, “I am here still standing on this Earth, how do I draw on all that is precious to me to keep that presence alive in my heart and continue to build threads of knowledge so that we may not just survive, but one day, flourish?”


Communities of Compassion: Living Together, Living Separately 

Very often we measure the success of interfaith engagement by how much time people spend together. This is indeed a beautiful concept and measure of our work which is grounded in human contact theory and ethics of relational enterprise. We are better when we are in dialogue. 

While this is often the case, there are moments in which communities are entrenched in modes of trauma, and we need to take into account two areas of trauma-informed care. First, safety is determined by the person themselves. If they are in need of a space that is unique to them at the moment and rituals that are shepherded by their own spiritual leaders and a private environment for their care, then we must respect their needs and definitions of what is effective for them. 

Drawing on this concept of self-defined safety, we can think about a collaborative process within campuses that recognizes that each community may have unique needs, and within each community there may be different grief processes. Inherent in this is developing a communal approach to program design and content. The collaborative mandate of trauma informed care beckons us to work directly with, not on behalf of, students and communities. 

Perhaps it is the quiet meeting of students across divides privately before a large public event is considered that is the more effective engagement. Success should not be measured by the display or performance of how activities are done.

I share all of this because we want to avoid doing work that re-traumatizes students. How do we provide processes that are collaborative, and recognize another trauma-informed care principle, trust? Are we building collaborative based engagement before a crisis? Do we only see a student population or demographic after harm? Were we taking time to know that community before harm ensued?  Are we inviting everyone to the table?

Trust takes time, it takes care, and it takes intentional, sustained, committed building. Sometimes it takes placing the ego on the side, opting out of high profile events and thinking about relationships over public recognition. 

Being humble in times of trauma teaches us so much. Are we listening?