Supporting Students Through Tragedy

Tragic events and crises can occur at any point in the semester and may have a profound emotional and cognitive impact on students and instructors. The following resources can be used by instructors to provide students support during difficult times.

Where to Begin

In response to a tragic event or crisis, it is common for people to experience a range of emotions, including shock, anger, fear, and grief (American Psychological Association, 2019). Although students' personal connections to the tragedy may vary, the weight of experiencing or witnessing discrimination, violence, or persistent injustice can take an emotional toll (Williams, 2018). Honoring feelings and receiving caring support can help with regaining a sense of equilibrium (American Psychological Association, 2019). Considering well-established relationships between emotions and cognition (Eyler, 2018; Immordino-Yang, 2016), instructors can use a multi-pronged approach to provide students extra support during difficult times: show awareness by acknowledging traumatic events and their impacts (especially in vulnerable communities), share resources available for help, and exercise compassion.


Show Awareness

Instructors serve an important role in shaping the classroom climate and modeling ways to process complex issues. You can begin by publicly acknowledging that a tragedy occurred and demonstrating basic awareness that students 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 tragic events and trauma narratives (Carello & Butler, 2014). Instructors should avoid "spotlighting students," asking that they speak on behalf of a community or identity group. Instead, you can simply let students know you are aware of the disturbing event(s), acknowledge the potential emotional and societal impacts of the event, and remind students that there are university and community resources where they can seek additional support. For example, you might say the following: 

“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. I am sharing resources with anyone who needs them. Please let me know how I can support you if you have concerns.”


Share Resources

Although it is important not to make assumptions about students' identities, there are university offices and organizations available to support students. In addition to the resources listed below, colleges, departments, and student organizations may provide additional services and ways to connect with and support one another. 

Mental health and wellness support

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.

  • Please take time to review CCS’s resource for Coping in a Crisis
  • CCS offers a range of services and resources that celebrate diversity, as well as a supportive space for affinity groups and interpersonal groups to engage in discussion and support one another.
  • CCS also provides a list of resources available to the university community to support students’ positive mental health.

The Ohio State University Suicide Prevention Program (OSUSPP) engages with students, staff, and faculty to provide the university community suicide prevention education training, outreach, and advocacy programs and services.

Instructors may also consider attending a workshop offered by Student Life’s Student Wellness Center on how to refer students to mental health and wellness support.

Support through community building

The Office of Student Life’s Center for Belonging and Social Change (CBSC) collaborates with students, campus partners, and community stakeholders to offer an inclusive and welcoming space to support students’ positive identity development. CBSC offers cohort groups, leadership programs, and cultural and intercultural initiatives to foster learning, community building, and social engagement. Students can sign up for CBSC’s newsletter to learn more, connect, and engage.

Reporting harassment, discrimination, and sexual misconduct

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.

Exercise Compassion

Finally, instructors should offer flexibility to students as they manage their personal needs with academic responsibilities. Given that learning is influenced by affect as well as information, the climate in which students learn can impact their learning positively or negatively (Ambrose et al., 2010). Being flexible with assignment deadlines and/or exam dates and participation in group work or other class activities can give students the space they need to make academic progress while addressing their emotional needs. Implementing contemplative modes of instruction can also help meet student needs. Research shows that teaching methods that benefit minoritized students also benefit other students, so consider implementing universal design strategies that can enhance learning for each student in your classroom. 


For more information about supporting students, contact the Drake Institute at



  • Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How learning works. John Wiley & Sons.

  • American Psychological Association (2019, July 29). Managing your distress in the aftermath of a shooting. 

  • Carello, J., & Butler, L. D. (2014). Potentially perilous pedagogies: Teaching trauma Is not the same as trauma-informed teaching. Journal of Trauma & Dissociation, 15(2), 153–168.

  • Eyler, J.R. (2018). How humans learn: The science and stories behind effective college teaching. (First edition). Morgantown: West Virginia University Press. 

  • Immordino-Yang, M. H. (2016). Emotions, learning, and the brain: Exploring the educational implications of affective neuroscience (First edition). W. W. Norton & Company.

  • Williams, D. R. (2018). Stress and the mental health of populations of color: Advancing our understanding of race-related stressors. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 59(4), 466–485. 


This teaching resource is adapted from a Drake Institute newsletter article written by Eric Brinkman and Leo Taylor in response to the November 2022 Club Q tragedy in Colorado Springs, CO.