Racism, Trauma, and School Pushout: Transforming School Cultures So Students Can Thrive

June, 2022

Michael Gregory, Harvard Graduate School of Education, Harvard Law School 
Katy Naples-Mitchell
, Harvard Law School 
Dawn Lewis
, Educational Equity Consultant 

Students thrive when school cultures foster their agency, safety, and belonging; support their developmental needs; and honor their multidimensional lives and identities. Adults can create school cultures that are havens for learning when systems support them to feel safe and valued, promote collaboration, empower them to engage in shared decision making, and establish a clear vision grounded in inclusive and equitable norms.

Research across several fields links traumatic experiences to learning, relational, and behavioral difficulties at school—difficulties that can interfere with development and lead to negative, counterproductive responses for the most vulnerable students. A growing literature also illuminates how racism can function as trauma for students of color, compounding the structural disadvantages they face. The overlapping barriers of racism and trauma place many students at increased risk of being left behind, disparately disciplined, and/or pushed out of school.

A burgeoning movement for trauma-sensitive, healing-centered learning environments seeks to reshape education by supporting schools to transform their cultures based on a shared understanding of trauma’s impacts on learning and students’ universal need to feel safe and supported. A parallel movement seeks to overcome profound intergenerational harms of racism by infusing antiracist mindsets and practices throughout education. This seminar will convene an interdisciplinary group of scholars and practitioners connected to these two movements to explore how trauma-sensitivity and antiracism can together improve our understanding of how to educate the whole learner and transform school cultures into sustained, supportive, equitable communities where all students thrive.