University of Pennsylvania Journal of Law and Social Change

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In this essay, we seek to expand the meaning of “trauma” by aligning trauma-informed pedagogy with principles of disability justice and progressive critiques of legal education. We argue first that the existence of trauma is not a sign of individual brokenness or deficiency, but rather should be taken as a warning about broken or deficient social institutions or practices. This approach to trauma recognizes the potential of those who experience trauma—whose bodies and minds bear the marks of both subordination and resilience—to contribute to institutional and structural transformation. We use as an example the trauma too often experienced in law school by students and faculty with stigmatized identities. Second, we argue that a disability justice approach to trauma calls us not only to embrace trauma-informed pedagogies for individual healing, but also to transform law teaching to accommodate the full spectrum of the human condition, using holistic pedagogical models that acknowledge the needs and capacities of human beings. Our call for structural transformation aligns with similar calls issued by feminist, critical race, and humanist critics of U.S.-style legal education.