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In the wake of traumatic national or local events, instructors are often unsure of how to respond. Students and instructors may be distressed, angry or saddened by specific events – on Penn's campus, in Philadelphia, in the nation or around the world -- and there may be ongoing challenges that leave students deeply anxious and make focusing on academic work difficult.

Remember that these events may be challenging for you as well. Take time to make sure you are well as you plan to talk with your students. Penn offers wellness resources for faculty and staff.


Acknowledge what happened

Simply recognizing such an event is tremendously valuable. You do not need to say a lot if you are not comfortable doing so. And you should not feel pressure to act as therapists or counselors. But acknowledging the event and the difficulty the class may be experiencing is often highly appreciated by students.

For ideas, consider phrases such as:

  • "I am saddened (or angered or frustrated) by . . ."
  • "I know many of us have been affected by . . ."
  • "Recently the entire campus has been shaken by . . . "
  • "It is important for all of us to support one another at these difficult times."
  • Some instructors also consider holding a moment of silence for reflection.

It is also helpful to let your class know about resources that exist to help them during stressful times. In particular, consider reminding students of the availability of Penn's Student Counseling (215.898.7021), the Office of the Chaplain (215.898.8456) and the Reach A Peer RAP line (Reach a Peer, 215.573.2727 (2RAP)) or Penn Benjamins. You can also consult with Student Counseling yourself about talking about events with your students.

You can also invite your students to talk about how they want to approach the upsetting issue as a class


Recognize that students may struggle academically

Some students may have difficulty focusing or completing their work in the wake of unsettling events. Instructors may want to hold extra office hours or review sessions to give students additional structure for getting through the work. Instructors may also consider extending deadlines and reaching out to students who appear to be struggling.


Discuss the issue

It is not necessary, but in some classes it might be appropriate to hold longer conversations about what has happened. Students often appreciate that opportunity. Feel free to consult with the Center for Teaching and Learning if you are considering such a discussion.

Depending on what is most helpful for your class as a whole, such a discussion may or may not take place during class time. Some faculty have let students know they will set aside extra office hours to process the difficult issue together, or simply to connect.

For another resource if you are concerned about holding a discussion around politically sensitive topics, you may want to review the University of Michigan's guide on how to handle "hot moments" in the classroom.