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Faculty Response to Tragedy

Cabrini is committed to caring for our students’ intellectual, social, emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being. When a tragedy occurs, faculty members often express the wish to help their students effectively deal with the aftermath.

  • There is no single correct time for these discussions. It is probably best to consider a discussion within a week of the tragedy.
  • If you prefer not to provide discussion time during class, even if you do not wish to lead an in-classroom discussion, it is probably best to acknowledge the event.
  • Failure to mention the event can result in students becoming angry at what they label as insensitivity.

If you choose not to devote discussion time to the event, you might mention to students that tragedies stir up many emotions, and that you want to remind them of resources on campus for support.

If you wish to provide an opportunity for discussion, how do we discuss something so distressing? Here are some ideas to consider.

  1. Discussion can be brief.
    Consider providing an opportunity at the beginning of a class period. Often, a short time period is more effective than a whole class period. This serves the purpose of acknowledging that students may be reacting to a recent event, without pressuring students to speak.
  2. Acknowledge the event.
    Introduce the opportunity by briefly acknowledging the tragic event, and suggesting that it might be helpful to share personal reactions students may have.
  3. Allow brief discussion of the facts.
    Often the discussion starts with students asking questions about what actually happened, and “debating” some details. 
  4. Invite students to share emotional, personal responses.
    You could lead off by saying something like:
    • “Often it is helpful to share your own emotional responses, and hear how others are responding. It doesn’t change the reality, but it takes away the sense of loneliness that sometimes accompanies stressful events. I would be grateful for whatever you are willing to share.”
  5. Note that there is no “right way” to react. 
    It can be useful to comment that each person copes with stress in a unique way.
  6. Be prepared for blaming.
    When people are upset, they often look for someone to blame, a displacement of anger as a way of coping. If the discussion gets stuck with blaming, you could say:
    • “We have been focusing on our sense of anger and blame, and that’s not unusual. It might be useful to talk about our fears.” 
  7. It is normal for people to seek an “explanation” of why the tragedy occurred.
    By understanding, we seek to reassure ourselves that a similar event could be prevented in the future. Uncertainty is particularly distressing, but sometimes inevitable.
    • The faculty member is better off resisting the temptation to make meaning of the event. That is not one of your responsibilities, and would not be helpful. 
  8. Thank students for sharing, and remind them of resources on campus.
    In ending the discussion, it is useful to comment that people cope in a variety of ways. If a student would benefit from a one-on-one discussion, you could encourage them to make use of campus resources, including counselors, Campus Ministry, and RAs.