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Now Seeking Schools to Partner with Trauma-informed Design Society on Grant-Funded Project!


The American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) Foundation

has awarded the

Trauma-informed Design Society

a $30,000 grant to conduct a pilot project

culminating in the creation of a tool schools can use to evaluate their physical space and identify changes that can lower the stress levels of students and staff!


The space in which students learn can communicate safety and promote secure attachments with teachers, or it can symbolize lack of dignity and agency, encouraging re-traumatization. Interior environments influence behaviors, negatively and positively. With trauma-informed design (TID), schools can mitigate potential triggers and help students feel safe. Students can then build resilience, strengthen emotional regulation, avoid behaviors resulting in discipline, and better access educational opportunities.

Based on the scientific evidence detailing the impacts trauma and toxic stress, we hypothesize:

Trauma-informed designed schools can reduce stress levels of staff and students, resulting in:
  • Less dysregulation;

  • A reduction in harsh disciplinary measures; and

  • Increased learning.

Students should be more able to self-regulate, and would ideally have a place where they can safely do so, reducing the need for discipline measures. Over time, students' academic performance should increase, as they are more able to access the classroom material.

Our aim with this project:

Is to partner with a mix of primary, middle, and high schools in the creation of the tool, which we will refer to as the "TiDEvalK12." We plan to gather information from educators and designers to inform the development of the tool, perform an evaluation of their space, develop recommendations intended to reduce stress levels and mitigate potential design-related triggers, and monitor the effects on student academic performance and discipline use. We'll use this knowledge, informed by educators and designers, in a design iteration process, to develop a useful and meaningful design evaluation tool to affect the built environment as one avenue to reduce stress.




The goal of the Transform Research Grant Program through which this project is funded is to focus on how diversity, equity, and inclusivity can be supported through interior design. The TiDEvalK12 tool will benefit all communities, but will have the greatest impact on the most marginalized.
This is because data indicates a high prevalence of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and other traumatic experiences among those living in these communities:
  • People with disabilities are more likely to have experienced ACEs than the general population;

  • Only 26% of LGBTQ students reported always feel safe in their classrooms, and those who are gender nonconforming are at increased risk for childhood abuse and school victimization; and

  • Reports of ACEs varied significantly by race/ethnicity and household income. Black children are reported to have higher ACE scores than white children, and are over-represented among children with two or more ACEs.

Students experiencing stress responses are often misinterpreted as lazy, unengaged, disruptive, willfully disobedient, threatening, aggressive, or even dangerous. Schools’ response to these behaviors often escalate into harsh discipline measures, including seclusion, restraint, suspensions, expulsions, and school arrests. Unfortunately, in addition to being more at risk for trauma, students from marginalized communities are also more likely to incur disproportionately harsh school discipline:

  • Suspension and expulsion rates for students who identify as Black, Indigenous, or People of Color (BIPOC)—especially BIPOC girls—are significantly higher than for white students;

  • Students with disabilities receive twice as many out-of-school suspensions than those without disabilities, and BIPOC students with disabilities are disproportionately physically restrained and placed in seclusion or involuntary confinement; and

  • Black students represent 27% of students referred to law enforcement and 31% of students subjected to a school-related arrest, despite making up only 16% of student enrollment.

By reducing stress levels in their schools, these students should be better able to regulate and manage their emotions, which should, in turn, result in a reduction of harsh discipline measures. As students begin to feel more safe in their schools, they should become more able to fully access the higher-level rational thinking required to engage in schoolwork, resulting in improved academic outcomes.



This project will not be possible without strong partnerships with K-12 schools. We would like to work with five or more relatively comparable schools to evaluate their existing spaces and gather information about when and where students and staff experience the most dysregulation, and use this information to inform the creation of the TiDEvalK12 tool.

We are now seeking schools to partner with on this project!

As we will be relying on schools to provide information that will be used to create the TiDEvalK12 tool, it is key that there are at least one or two points-of-contact in each school that is fairly well-versed in trauma-informed care best practices and social-emotional learning and coping strategies.

Our partner schools will provide us invaluable information in the creation of the tool. Through a mixed-methods approach, we will seek to understand:
  • How they identify and support dysregulated students;

  • What happens right before a child is disciplined (potential triggers);

  • What any existing current sensory/calm rooms/spaces look like

  • How well the current spaces help children regulate and re-engage;

  • What dream regulation spaces would look like;

  • What barriers exist to implementing regulation spaces; and

  • How well teachers and staff are able to support use of these spaces.

Due to the disproportionate impact of trauma on marginalized communities, we are prioritizing high-need, historically under-estimated schools and populations.

If you are interested in partnering with us for this exciting, innovative project, and helping us create an accurate, easy-to-use design tool that can identify ways to reduce stress levels in schools, please contact:


The Trauma-informed Design Society is a transdisciplinary team with a focus on research into practice, and back into research. We are located around the Untied States, from the Pacific Northwest to New England and the Southwest, and in the Netherlands. We each bring different knowledge and experience to the project, in which we will play various roles.

Our Core Team is comprised of:

  • J. Davis Harte, PhD, this project’s principle investigator, the Director and Faculty of the Design for Human Health master’s program at the Boston Architectural College, and co-leader of Global Birth Environment Design Network (GBEDN) ;

  • Janet Roche, MDS, a faculty member of the Boston Architectural College, host of Inclusive Designers Podcast, and interior designer specializing in universal design, and the design of environments for those who are aging-in-place or seeking accommodations for other human conditions;

  • Christine Cowart, MA, founder of Cowart Trauma Informed Partnership, and human services policy analyst, focusing on justice systems and services to families; and

  • Molly Pierce, a Pediatric Occupational Therapist for over 30 years, with specialties in neurodevelopment, sensory processing/integration, and oral motor/feeding and swallowing.

For the purposes of this project, the Trauma-informed Design Society is being represented by the Boston Architectural College.




In addition to more detail about the project, the brochure includes:

  • Background on trauma's impact on education, including relevant research on how toxic stress levels can lead to dysregulated nervous systems and inhibit a person's ability to control behavior;

  • Statistics on the disproportional impact of trauma on marginalized communities;

  • An introduction to trauma-informed design concepts, and the role of interior designers in the project;

  • More about our hypothesis and long-term goals; and

  • Professional biographies of the members of the Trauma-informed Design Society.

This project is supported by the American Society of Interior Designers Foundation.

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