Dr. Tricia Shalka is an assistant professor in the Warner School’s higher education program at University of Rochester. Dr. Shalka’s primary research investigates the impacts of traumatic experience(s) on college students, particularly in terms of developmental outcomes. Her most recent work in this area explores the intersection of identity development and trauma in college students. She also maintains a secondary research interest in the internationalization of higher education with a particular emphasis on the experiences of international students in American colleges and universities.
Chronicle (C): Can you tell us a little about your background and the research you are currently working on?
Experiences of International Students in American Colleges/Universities
C: Why did you choose to study international students specifically?
TS: While a masters student at the University of Maryland, I had the amazing privilege of being part of the Multi-Instiutional Study of Leadership’s (MSL) research team under the direction of Dr. Susan Komives, Dr. John Dugan, and Dr. Julie Owen. I learned an indescribable amount from their mentorship, in addition to that project being my entry point to an evolving interest in college student leadership development. The college student leadership development literature is ever growing, but something I came to realize was that a significant student population was being largely left out of the conversation – international students. Given the fact that international students have been a growing population in U.S. higher education, I felt this was a significant gap that needed to be explored, especially since leadership development is an often reported desired outcome of U.S. higher education.
C: What have been the findings from working with international students so far?
C: What have been some challenges you’ve encountered in your mentoring research?
Developmental Impacts of Traumatic Experiences on College Students
C: What brought your interest in understanding the connection between the experienced trauma faced by college students and their identity development?
C: What have been your findings on the identity development of college students who experienced trauma so far?
TS: My work has unearthed what I’ll call the “pre”, “post”, and “post-post” components of how college student trauma and identity intersect. In terms of the “pre”, I’ve noted that the impacts of trauma on the self don’t really just begin with a traumatic event or experience. Rather, orientating systems exist long before trauma might happen and frame how an individual will make sense of it in terms of their identity. For example, social identities like gender may limit how an individual may process their trauma if they don’t want to appear “weak” or fall into negative stereotypes about their gender identity. In terms of the “post”, there are a whole lot of developmental tasks that arise after trauma that college students have to process through and these are directly tied to making meaning of who they are in the world (i.e., their identities). For example, for many college students experiencing trauma, their peers may not fully understand what they are going through. This can have an isolating effect during a developmental time when relationships are really critical to identity development. Finally, in terms of the “post-post”, as college student survivors navigate through these developmental tasks after trauma they are ultimately refining a sense of self along the way which results in two key features: 1) the trauma becomes part of the person’s sense of self, but not the full self, and 2) a trauma lens develops in which a person comes to understand themselves and the world around them through the prism of that traumatic experience(s) they have endured.