Supportive Boundaries & Referrals
Multi-faceted student support issues, using the syllabus as a support tool, content warnings, basic needs assessments, scaling individualized student support, signposting students to support services, modeling resiliency and wellness.
- Boundaries are a critical tool in the praxis of trauma-informed pedagogy. Clearly communicated bounds can support students, educators, and the larger community to make informed decisions and access resources that are the best fit for their situation. While educators may often be one of the trusted adults in a student’s sphere of support, it is important to stay firmly grounded in what we can (and cannot) offer, while staying abreast of institutional and community resources that best meet the needs of students outside our own areas of expertise.
- “While teachers play many roles in students’ lives, psychologist should not be one of them. This is for the benefit of students and teachers alike. For students, school needs to be a place of safety and predictability. Clear boundaries and roles help students establish a sense of safety in relationships. If we dig too deeply into explorations of trauma with students, at best we create a confusing dynamic. At worst, we can impede a student’s healing journey by providing uninformed counsel or treatment.” (Venet, 2019, p.3)
- There are important differences between the role of the individual instructor as a trusted mentor for students, and the role of the institution to create a robust and well-resourced educational environment for learners and instructors alike!
- Robust administrative support, resourcing, and staffing is critical to the development of trauma-informed and healing-centered learning environments. For more information on the support available for faculty and staff, and guidance for how to practice self-care in the face of compassion fatigue, visit our tool Addressing and Combatting Compassion Fatigue.
When to Use
The syllabus is a useful place for instructors to include referral information and guiding statements upfront. These can help let students know what you do (and do not) have the capacity to support as an individual faculty member, while also signposting them to external and institutional resources. For more syllabus statements and resources, visit the OTL Sample Syllabus Statements page
How to Use
Content and Trigger Warnings on Syllabi and in Class
It is important to remember that the purpose of including any type of warning in relation to course content is to give students up-front information that can help inform their approach to potentially difficult or retraumatizing content. Students can be empowered to prepare in the way that is best for them! They may use this heads-up to mobilize their own support systems, or reach out to request slight alterations in how they engage your course so as to successfully meet scholastic requirements. Ideally, Content Warnings are also backed by clear instructions around whether students can contact an instructor, and make suggestions as to what alternatives are available if needed. Instructors should note that a student’s self-disclosure is not a prerequisite for requesting informal arrangements.
Avoid romanticizing trauma narratives in your subject content. Although some individuals experience post-traumatic growth after adapting to the fallout of traumatic experiences, ensure your lesson content or subject matter does not depict trauma as romantic or desirable.
- When constructing a content warning for the syllabus, strive to be transparent when describing the content, conveying simple, factual descriptions rather than introducing our own interpretations.
- Example, "I am listing a Content Warning for Module 3, as the movie scene we will be watching contains instances of child sexual assault." (not "In module 3 there is a difficult and graphic rape scene.")
- Example, "I am listing a Content Warning for Module 3, as the short story depicts a fictionalized instance of physical harm to an LGBTQ+ community member. As a reminder, if you would like to access this content through alternative means, please contact me via email and we can discuss alternatives for accessing the course content to complete the assignment."
- Example, "I am listing a Content Warning for Module 3, as the source material utilizes language that is derogatory towards people of color. As a reminder, if you would like slight alterations for this assignment, please contact me via email and we can discuss options for completing the assignment.”
Note: While it is important to consider the impacts of the scholastic materials themselves, it is also increasingly critical to consider the potential implications of the authors, artists, writers, or producers included in your course, too!
- Example, “I am listing an acknowledgement that this media was produced by Harvey Weinstein, whose history of sexual assault in the industry has had far-reaching negative impacts on the actors and crew members with whom he worked over the years. I do not condone his actions, nor does the use of this material in class indicate any implicit endorsement of the many harms he has caused.”
Basic Needs Security Statement on Syllabi (Sara Goldrick-Rab, 2020)
Including a basic needs security statement is an inexpensive and easy way of leveraging an often under-utilized teaching tool—the syllabus! Following these three easy steps, instructors can construct their own basic needs security statement, or choose to work from one of the examples provided below.
- Step 1: Welcome students to seek help and normalize the act of getting help with food and housing. Rather than calling out food insecurity or homelessness by name, simply indicate that if students are having trouble affording enough to eat, or don’t have safe and reliable places to sleep, they should seek help.
- Step 2: Direct students toward help. Identify the best point of contact on your campus and list some of the potential ways in which this service might help your students. It is not necessary to include a laundry list of every available resource on campus, only to help point the student in the right direction.
- Step 3: Invite students to connect with you. Students dealing with basic needs insecurity often exhibit symptoms in the classroom. If they tell you this is a challenge, you will be more informed when you see them sleeping in cars or missing deadlines. Simply letting them know you care can improve their odds of success; indeed, most of today’s students express a strong desire for professors to know them as people. For more information on how to communicate empathetically in response to student disclosures, visit the tool The 3Es- Empathize, Educate, & Empower.
EXAMPLE STATEMENT: Any student who has difficulty affording groceries or accessing sufficient food to eat every day, or who lacks a safe and stable place to live, and believes this may affect their performance in the course, is urged to contact [SUPPORT SERVICE]. Furthermore, please notify the professor if you are comfortable doing so, as this may enable them to best support your scholastic achievement. The [SUPPORT SERVICE] can connect you with resources including a food pantry, assistance signing up for SNAP (up to $194 in grocery money each month for eligible students), textbook lending program and other resources to help.
Gentile-Mathew, A. (2021). Teaching Tools. Inclusive Teaching Practices, University of Denver Office of Teaching & Learning.
Goldrick-Rabb, S. (2020, December). Spreading the Word - Supporting Students’ Basic Needs with a Syllabus Statement and Welcome Survey. The Hope Center.