After a Tragedy or Loss

After a tragic event, the effects are often felt most intensely in the classroom. A professor may be the first person a student sees after a tragedy occurs. While those directly impacted are often most affected, tragedies ripple across campus and affect people in strong and sometimes unexpected ways. If a professor starts class by jumping right into a lesson without acknowledging what has happened, it may feel disconcerting or upsetting to students who are likely having many thoughts and feelings about what they are experiencing.

The following are suggestions for what you, as a faculty member, can do to help your students cope in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy or loss.

  1. Acknowledge what happened
    Mentioning the event, even briefly, shows your students that it’s normal to be thinking about what happened.
  2. Provide an opportunity to talk
    Ask broad, open-ended questions such as, “How’s everyone feeling about…?” or “How are people reacting to…” Refer to the UMass Maroon Folder for more on recognizing and responding to students in distress.
  3. Share your experience (if you feel comfortable)
    Sharing your experience helps humanize you. It’s even okay to show emotion. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing personally, that’s okay too.
  4. Make sure students are aware of campus supports
    The Dean of Students Office, Center for Counseling and Psychological Health, Center for Women & Community, UMass Police Department, and Office of Religious, Spiritual Life are all great resources in times of tragedy. Don’t worry about which is the best referral – staff in these areas are familiar with university support systems and can help figure out appropriate next steps. If you need personal support, the Employee Counseling and Consultation Office offers free and confidential counseling for UMass employees.
  5. Be flexible with students and for yourself as needed
    Students affected by tragedy may need some flexibility and temporary adjustments in workload. It is normal for people not to be able to function at full capacity when dealing with an emotional situation. This is the time to be flexible. Some people may not feel affected by the tragedy, and that’s okay too.

Helpful Resources:

Critical Incident Response Plan

Trauma Reaction Continuums - from Riverside Trauma Center