Support Following Tragedies
In the aftermath of tragedies, students, faculty, and staff may all be affected. Students will need time to process and discuss what they are going through. We have provided some resources below that may help you to coordinate support, facilitate these discussions, and prepare for some of the ways in which students may react. Although Counseling Services cannot provide therapy to faculty and staff, there are resources available through the Employee Assistance Program. Learn more at the Human Resources website if you notice yourself struggling in the aftermath of a campus tragedy.
University of Oregon Police Department
If you witness a tragedy, or believe you may be the first to discover a tragedy has taken place, please contact UOPD at 541-346-2919 for non-emergency matters or 9-1-1 for emergencies.
Office of the Dean of Students
The Office of the Dean of Students offers a variety of resources, programming, and supports to UO students. This office is also able to provide and coordinate support following student deaths or tragedies affecting the campus community. Whether you are a student, faculty or staff, or family, if you or a student close to you have experienced such a tragedy, the Dean of Students' office is a good place to start. Please call us at 541-346-3216 to discuss how the university can help.
Counseling Services provides confidential individual and group therapy services to UO students. We may also be able to provide group crisis debriefings, classroom presentations, and workshops to help students process and cope with the effects of tragedies.
If you would like to discuss support options or are unsure of how to handle a situation, please call 541-346-3227 to consult with one of our staff members. Remember, you can always refer students to Counseling Services if you recognize they need more assistance than you are able to provide.
Please note: Counseling Services provides confidential psychological services to students, consistent with the parameters of state and federal laws. While many faculty, staff, and family consultations about students may be kept confidential, there are times when university policy or state or federal statutes require Counseling Services staff to disclose information to other university officials.
Algunos consejos por la American Psychological Association para ayudar manejar reacciones después de tragedias. Estos consejos incluyen cosas como habla de lo sucedido, busca el equilibrio, desconéctate y toma un descanso, respeta tus sentimientos, y más.
Helping Students Cope with Tragedy in the Classroom
Take time to talk as a group or class
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. Introduce the opportunity by briefly acknowledging the tragic event and suggesting that it might be helpful to share personal reactions students may have.
Have students discuss "facts" first, then shift to emotions
Often the discussion starts with students asking questions about what actually happened and “debating” some details. People are more comfortable discussing “facts” than feelings, so it’s best to allow this exchange for a brief period of time. After facts have been exchanged, you can try to shift the discussion toward sharing personal and emotional reactions.
Invite students to share emotional, personal responses
You might 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.”
Respect each person’s dealing with the loss
Some will be more vocal or expressive than others with their feelings and thoughts. Everyone is affected differently and reacts differently.
Be prepared for blaming
When people are upset, they often look for someone to blame. Essentially, this is a displacement of anger. It is a way of coping. The idea is that if someone did something wrong, future tragedies can be avoided by doing things “right”. If the discussion gets stuck with blaming, it might be useful to 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”.
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. You might comment that, as intellectual beings, we always seek to understand. It is very challenging to understand unthinkable events. By their very natures, tragedies are especially difficult to explain. Uncertainty is particularly distressing, but sometimes it is inevitable. You are better off resisting the temptation to make meaning of the event. That is not one of your responsibilities and would not be helpful.
Make contact with those students who appear to be reacting in unhealthy ways
Some examples include isolating themselves too much, using alcohol excessively, throwing themselves into academics or busy work in ways not characteristic of them, etc.
Find ways of memorializing the loss, if appropriate
After the initial shock has worn off, it may be helpful to find a way of honoring and remembering the person in a way that is tangible and meaningful to the group.
Make accommodations as needed, for you and for the students
Many who are directly affected by the tragedy may need temporary accommodations in their workload, in their living arrangements, in their own self-expectations. It is normal for people not to be able to function at their full capacity when trying to deal with an emotional situation. This is the time to be flexible.
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 can encourage them to make use of campus and community resources. These include residence hall staff, spiritual and religious leaders, and Counseling Center staff.
Give yourself time to reflect
Remember that you have feelings thoughts about what occurred too. These thoughts and feelings should be taken seriously, not only for yourself, but also for the sake of the students with whom you are working. Some find it helpful to write down or talk out their feelings and thoughts.
Come back to the feelings as a group at a later time
It is important to acknowledge the adjustments people have made. Just because everything seems to be back to normal does not mean that everyone has finished having feelings about the loss.
Reproduced by permission from Joan Whitney, Ph.D., Executive Director, University Counseling Center, Villanova University, "In the Classroom, Dealing with the Aftermath of Tragedy." © 2007, Joan G. Whitney, Ph.D., All Rights Reserved.