Supporting Students in the Aftermath of Tragedies
Tragedies, such as the recent violence at Club Q in Colorado Springs and in Half Moon Bay and Monterey Park, can occur at any point in semester and can deeply affect students. Given that experiences outside the classroom can impact student learning and academic performance (Ambrose, 2010), how can instructors support their students while they process reactions to traumatic events? In the aftermath of national or world tragedies, instructors can take a three-pronged approach: show awareness by acknowledging traumatic events and their impacts (especially on vulnerable communities), offer information on resources available for help, and be flexible with students within their courses.
Although it is common for people to experience a range of emotions and physical responses to tragic events, honoring feelings and receiving caring support can help with coping during difficult times (American Psychological Association, 2019). Unfortunately, students from minoritized communities are familiar with having their needs ignored, so a first step is to publicly acknowledge that the event took place and demonstrate basic awareness that students, especially those in the targeted group, may be struggling with a variety of emotions. Students may feel uncomfortable asking questions or sharing their thoughts or feelings unless invited by the instructor. That said, most instructors are not trained counselors or therapists and should be cautious about inviting open-ended conversations with students about traumatic events. Instead, simply let students know you are aware of the disturbing event(s) and state that they have your support and remind students that there are university and community resources where they can seek additional support. For example, you might say, “As you may know, _______ happened over the weekend/yesterday. It is common to experience a range of emotions when processing tragic events. I want everyone to know you are not alone, and I will be sharing resources for anyone who needs them. Please let me know how I can support you if you have concerns.”
There are many resources available to students to support their mental health and wellbeing. The Office of Student Life's Counseling and Consultation Services provides individual and group mental health services to students and their spouse/partners who are covered by the Student Health Insurance Plan. The Counseling and Consultation Services website also provides a list of many resources at The Ohio State University available to support students’ positive mental health. Instructors may consider attending a workshop offered by Student Life’s Student Wellness Center on how to refer students to mental health and wellness support. Ohio State’s Office of Institutional Equity (OIE) coordinates the university’s complaints of harassment, discrimination, and sexual misconduct. Instructors can visit the OIE website to learn about their services, seek support, or to file a report. In addition to resources at Ohio State, general hotlines include:
- 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline: 24/7 confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones. Dial 988.
- Franklin County Suicide Prevention Hotline: call or text (text available M-F noon-10pm)
- Call or text 614-221-5445
For LGBTQ+ students processing feelings about the tragedy in Colorado Springs, encourage students to visit the LGBTQ at Ohio State page for mental health, which includes information about counseling and financial assistance.
LGBTQ+ students can also take advantage of national resources:
- LGBT National Help Center: provides peer-support, community connections and resource information to people with questions regarding sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
- Call the LGBT National Hotline at 888-843-4564
- Visit the Online Peer Support Chat
- The Trevor Project: provides suicide prevention and crisis intervention services for LGBTQ young people.
- Call TrevorLifeline at 866-488-7386
- Text START to 678-678
- Use TrevorChat online
- Trans Lifeline Hotline: a peer support phone service run by trans people for our trans and questioning peers.
- Call 877-565-8860
- THRIVE Lifeline: a trans-led crisis text line staffed by people in STEMM with marginalized identities.
- Text “THRIVE” to 313-662-8209
- BlackLine: provides a space for peer support, counseling, witnessing and affirming the lived experiences of folxs who are most impacted by systematic oppression with an LGBTQ+ Black Femme Lens.
- Call 1-800-604-5841
- Desi LGBTQ+ Helpline for South Asians Mental Health Care (DeQH): free, confidential, culturally sensitive peer support, information and resources for LGBTQ+ South Asian individuals, families and friends around the globe.
- Fill out their online contact form
- Call 908-367-3374
Finally, instructors should consider offering flexibility to students as they manage their personal needs with academic responsibilities. Expecting students to be fully present in the aftermath of traumatic events is unreasonable. Instead, try to empathize with your students through perspective taking. Again, research shows that students are not empty vessels waiting to be filled with instructor knowledge: they are full human beings whose learning is impacted by affect as well as information, and the climate in which students learn can impact their learning positively or negatively (Ambrose, 2010). Being flexible with assignment deadlines and/or exam dates, participation in group work, or other class requirements can give students the space they need to make academic progress while addressing their emotional needs in order to improve student learning outcomes. Implementing contemplative modes of instruction can also help meet student needs as well. Research shows that teaching methods that benefit minoritized students also benefit other students, so consider implementing universal design strategies that can enhance learning for every student in your classroom.
For more information or to ask further questions, contact the Drake Institute to discuss any aspect of your teaching or to request to meet with an Instructional Consultant.
Ambrose, Susan A., et al. How Learning Works: Seven Research-based Principles for Smart Teaching. Jossey-Bass, 2010. https://library.ohio-state.edu/record=b8585188~S7
American Psychological Association (2019, July 29). Managing your distress in the aftermath of a shooting. https://www.apa.org/topics/gun-violence-crime/mass-shooting
Dr. Eric Brinkman, Instructional Consultant, Drake Institute for Teaching and Learning
Dr. Leo Taylor, Program Manager for Faculty and Staff Affairs, CFAES Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion