Vicarious trauma entails the cumulative, adverse intrapersonal reactions that result from an empathetic relationship (McCann & Pearlman, 1990), and largely results from the disclosure of traumatic information. Vicarious trauma and gender are interrelated based on student expectations for female instructors to be emotionally available, kind, and caring (Sprague & Massoni, 2005), which may increase the prevalence and intensity of traumatic disclosures. From an organizational perspective, experiencing a higher prevalence of traumatic disclosures may negatively influence female faculty across domains of teaching and professional advancement, and health and well-being. We must also consider that female faculty face additional external and organizational stressors, such as caregiving responsibilities, childcare, performance-based demands, the pressure to secure and maintain grants, and a highly competitive academic job market; thus limiting their ability to seek support and exacerbating stress.
Disrupting the dominant gender structure will require both interpersonal and organizational shifts to support female faculty in social work and in the academy. We propose the following questions to our social work colleagues: Do experiences of vicarious trauma differ on the basis of gender? If so, what are we doing to protect and support female instructors in the academy? Are implicit gender norms among students reinforcing the inequitable gender structure that exists within social work education (and higher education)? If so, is it possible that despite social workâ€™s desire to promote gender equity, we need additional organizational strategies to mitigate risks for vicarious trauma among our female faculty?
Given the immense and negative impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the potential for female faculty to experience disproportionate rates of vicarious trauma in our classrooms warrants our immediate attention. In this round table, we will initiate dialogue by exploring how gender shapes the relationships and interactions between students and faculty, and encourage participants to also address how the intersectionality of race and gender may place certain faculty members at a greater risk for traumatic disclosures from students. We will continue the discussion by exploring how gender influences the information students choose to disclose and the cognitive load of these disclosures on female faculty. Additionally, we will encourage attendees to identify how organizational policies can better support female faculty while also challenging the broader gender structure that inhibits advancements for women in the academy. Lastly, we will encourage participants to identify directions for future research and policy practice at the intersection of social work education, gender, and vicarious trauma.