Negotiating Trauma and Teaching Law

By: Mallika Kaur, UC Berkeley School of Law and Executive Director, Sikh Family Center

As a human rights advocate focused on gendered violence work, about seven years ago I began employing the term “negotiating trauma” (while developing a class of the same name for UC Berkeley School of Law) in order to encourage fellow lawyers to consider, recognize and better prioritize the many emotional interplays in our everyday work. 

This new article focuses on trauma & the classroom. I propose adopting “a combination of simple strategies… that better acknowledge trauma (whether or not the professor chooses to use that term, and whether or not the class is a small seminar or large lecture) is to everyone’s advantage in today’s law school.” Like with other negotiations, we could apply a zero-sum approach to the various players’ emotions involved in legal teaching or choose to instead engage the complexity to generate better, perhaps deeper, and eventually more valuable learning and lawyering. 

The Abstract:

HOW DO YOU NEGOTIATE TRAUMA AND EMOTIONS IN YOUR CLASSROOM? Posing this open-ended question to law professors not only begets more questions, but also often elicits a reflexive retort: law professors dare not present themselves as mental health experts and law schools have mental health resources for students having difficulties. The difficulty of this approach is that in 2021, most law students are no longer willing to accept that their legal education must suppress emotions, including trauma. For classrooms where professors may be less comfortable with emotional discussions, they may find themselves challenged and perhaps even feel obstructed from teaching their subject matter with the freedom and expertise it deserves. Are we simply dealing with an overly sensitive generation? Or are we being pushed to make overdue changes that will improve legal teaching, legal education, and eventually the profession? 

Citation Information

Kaur, Mallika. “Negotiating Trauma & Teaching Law.” Journal of Law and Social Policy 35. (2021): 113-119. https://digitalcommons.osgoode.yorku.ca/jlsp/vol35/iss1/6 

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