Following A Crisis
Unfortunately, tragic events occur on college campuses. These events often leave many students, faculty, staff, and members of the college or university community severely traumatized. When this happens, providing some time in a class setting for emotional debriefing can significantly aid and accelerate the healing process. The following guide to emotional debriefing in class was adapted from a similar guide written for the faculty at Texas A&M University following the Bonfire tragedy in November 1999. This guide was kindly shared by Professor Stan Carpenter from the Educational Administration Department at Texas A&M.
Provide time during class to discuss the incident and the students' feelings about it. The students
should be encouraged to express feelings in a supportive atmosphere as soon as possible. The
professor might say:
"I'm still (sad, shaken, upset) by the tragedy that happened on campus on Thursday. I'm glad to be with all of you again. How are each of you (feeling, doing, coping) with this?"
Give the students 30 seconds to a minute to say something. They may need a little time to get the courage to speak. If students do not speak, remind them of your office hours, your e-mail address, and/or your willingness to meet one-on-one. Emphasize that talking about the trauma is a good and healing thing to do. If you share some of your feelings, it will encourage them to talk. The minor loss of instructional time will be insignificant because if they are having serious emotional reactions, their learning will be compromised.
It is also important to let them know that when events like this occur, our Counseling Center makes special arrangements to provide support to students who are affected by the situation. If they would like help or support, they should contact the Center as soon as possible.
Remember that everyone's story is valid. Not everyone has to speak.
Emotional debriefing is not about establishing facts of the incident. It is about expression of
feelings. Whatever students say can be answered with:
"It must be terrible to think about that." Or "It must hurt a lot to remember it that way."
If you are able to identify students who are most upset, a referral to the Counseling Center would be helpful. When speaking to students, try to do so in a calm, relaxed way and don't worry if you cry in front of them. That's okay. When the students finish talking, you can offer them a moment of silence. Suggest that they close their eyes and breathe slowly and deeply three or four times. If you are worried about a particular student, approach her/him privately. If you are concerned about your own reactions to the situation, consider seeking help. Give us a call and we can chat with you about whether you should think about seeking help. Our number is 358-2437. We also have a crisis team that can come to your classroom.