What is it about?

Students who were suspended and expelled from school, and the school staff who supported them were interviewed about their experiences of childhood adversity. Students had consistently experienced multiple and diverse forms of adversity. Of particular note were expanded forms of adversity which included school and community violence, systemic racism, and inequity.

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Why is it important?

Experiences of adversity are rarely explicitly identified among students who have been suspended or expelled, colluding with biased perspectives of these students as perpetrators of adversity rather than as experiencing adversity. Expanded forms of adversity, such as racism and community violence, are particularly likely to be unacknowledged. Violence and adversity are social problems based on historical and structural conditions that in turn maintain social inequity. Adversity disproportionately impacts those same students who are disproportionately disciplinarily excluded notably Black and Indigenous males and those living in lower socioeconomic neighbourhoods. Acknowledging exposure to expanded forms of adversity is important for a wholistic understanding of academic achievement and disciplinary exclusion. To acknowledge the level of exposure to expanded adversity, we must ensure that schools are adequately resourced, attending to workload and class sizes, to allow school staff to connect with all students. Connection means all students feel listened to, understood and supported. This connection is essential throughout a students’ education, including at the point of discipline. Acknowledgement of adversity within disciplinary exclusion is a necessary step in a systemic shift toward appropriately understanding and supporting students and communities significantly and disproportionately impacted by expanded forms of adversity.


I was deeply honoured to have the opportunity to speak with this incredible group of students and staff. They were clear about the impact of their experiences and the importance of connection and feeling understood. I feel strongly that applying a trauma-informed and culturally attuned approach to discipline, only possible when we acknowledge the profound and disproportionate impact of childhood adversity, is essential in supporting student success and long-term individual and societal outcomes.

Jane Sanders

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Experiences of adversity among high school students who have been suspended or expelled: Systemic racism, inequity, school and community violence., Traumatology An International Journal, October 2022, American Psychological Association (APA),
DOI: 10.1037/trm0000425.
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