Abstract: The (re)Production of Violence and Trauma in High Schools: How Institutional Policies and Practices Influence Teacher and Staff Decision Making (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

All in-person and virtual presentations are in Mountain Standard Time Zone (MST).

SSWR 2023 Poster Gallery: as a registered in-person and virtual attendee, you have access to the virtual Poster Gallery which includes only the posters that elected to present virtually. The rest of the posters are presented in-person in the Poster/Exhibit Hall located in Phoenix A/B, 3rd floor. The access to the Poster Gallery will be available via the virtual conference platform the week of January 9. You will receive an email with instructions how to access the virtual conference platform.

The (re)Production of Violence and Trauma in High Schools: How Institutional Policies and Practices Influence Teacher and Staff Decision Making

Friday, January 13, 2023
Valley of the Sun C, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Melanie Sonsteng-Person, PhD, Postdoctoral Associate, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
Background and Purpose: Research shows that violence exposure, trauma, and education are inextricably linked, cyclically influencing one another and impacting adolescents’ current and future well-being. These experiences are caused and often exacerbated by racism embedded within institutions. Experiences of trauma and post-traumatic stress impact adolescents throughout their lives, trickling down into schools perpetuating the inequities that uphold marginalization. The literature has well documented exposure to violence within the community and its outcomes. Although schools are increasingly adopting programs that seek to address trauma,, there is a hyper focus on individual trauma, leaving a clear gap in understanding of how schools can buffer or exacerbate the relationship between violence exposure, trauma, and educational outcomes.

Methods: A constructivist grounded theory multiple case study design was used to explore how teachers and school staff perceive, are impacted by, and respond to the manifestation of trauma derived from community violence exposure in three High Schools in Los Angeles County, California. Data were gathered from 23 in-depth semi structured interviews with 13 teachers and 10 school staff in Los Angeles County. Recruitment occurred during the stay at home orders from the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter uprisings from May 2020 until February 2021. Grounded theory analysis of interviews with principals, teachers, and other school staff resulted in a conceptual framework that delineates how individual identification and responses to trauma are situated within and uphold institutional power.

Results: Findings draw from critical race theory and healing justice to inform a conceptual framework that details the nexus between teacher education programs, district policies, resources, staff biases, and collective well-being through four main themes: (1) teachers and school staff ultimately hold the power of defining what constitutes trauma; (2) individual experiences embedded within institutional factors encourage paternalism as the only response to trauma in schools; (3) this response leads to the demoralization of those caring for students; and (4) combined, each of these factors holds a cumulative impact on current and future students.

Conclusion & Implications: I conclude by discussing the need to identify institutional causes of trauma to understand better and meaningfully address the consistent (re)production of violence-related trauma in schools. Implications call for the transformation of harmful education practices throughout three levels: pre-service, district, and school. School social workers should lead anti-oppressive educational transformation by (1) addressing individual biases and racism by providing anti-racist training to all current and future school personnel, (2) utilize community-engaged methods to identify student and familial needs to create necessary healing practices in schools, and (3) advocate for policies that would reimagine the training, funding, and resources provided to schools.