By Ute Kelly
Sometimes, we learn as much from students as they do from us. Among the things I enjoy most about working in a University setting are the opportunities it can offer for meaningful conversations that prompt us to ask different questions, see new connections between diverse themes and experiences, and explore the implications for our thinking and practices. I have had several overlapping conversations of this kind over the past year or so. The most sustained of these has been with Juleus Ghunta, a Jamaican Chevening scholar who, as he describes in this blog post, came to Bradford to deepen his understanding of the impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) on his life. In a nutshell, ACEs are traumatic experiences – including various interpersonal forms of abuse and neglect as well as exposure to settings and cultures of violence and deprivation – that affect children’s health and development in far-reaching ways.
As Juleus describes in his account, coming across studies that link ACEs to a range of physical and mental health conditions helped him make sense of many of the challenges he has experienced. Getting a sense of these links and their significance via his work helped me to connect some important dots too – between the different forms and experiences of violence we look at in peace and conflict studies, between individual, interpersonal and structural approaches to healing and conflict transformation, between what we do at the University and the life experiences our students bring to their studies.
The questions this has raised for me about how Universities might support students who come with ACEs and/or other traumatic experiences have resonated in conversations with several other students. These have been students who have felt drawn to studying issues of peace, conflict, reconciliation or justice partly because those themes connect with their lived experiences. And at the same time, these students’ lived experiences of adverse childhood experiences and/or other forms of trauma make studying more challenging. As established in research on ACEs, people who have gone through these experiences are much more likely to be affected by a wide range of physical illnesses and mental health problems. This in itself, of course, makes it difficult to focus on studying and to do your best work.
Students with traumatic backgrounds have also told me that they are facing anxieties that can feel paralysing, that they find it difficult to focus on reading and writing, that producing their assignments takes them much longer than many of their peers. Sometimes, these students do very well nevertheless; sometimes, we don’t have a sense of the struggles, the time and energy that goes into their work. Sometimes, such students are failed by a system that doesn’t recognise the challenges they face or manage to provide the right kinds of support. Sometimes, they hold themselves responsible for struggling or needing support; sometimes, they feel they are being a burden.
Read more in From the Honesty Box