As global tragedies and crises become more hypervisible in our increasingly connected world, it is more and more likely that students in your class(es) are, in some way, impacted by current local, national, or global events. Instructors (Sherwood et al., 2021) found that their work to infuse trauma-informed instructional practices created opportunities for community and student engagement during collective crisis. This page offers suggestions for dealing with the effects of these events in your classroom communities, drawn primarily from trauma-informed and social justice approaches to teaching.
When the world is in turmoil, the overarching sentiment from students is that it is important to acknowledge these events rather than pretend they are not happening. When instructors do not acknowledge these events, or make space for students to process them, it can come across as insensitive. While faculty at Berkeley already have some essential responsibilities toward their students in crisis, as crises become increasingly collective, it is becoming increasingly necessary to hold space for students to collectively process these events.
While there is no one perfect strategy for navigating these moments in the classroom—and indeed, they may vary across disciplines, class formats, and students’ own needs at the time—it is important to realize and acknowledge that students’ processing of these events may bleed into their ability to focus and engage in class. When this becomes the case, it can be helpful to:
Notice when students are disengaged from the classroom and focused on processing—and, crucially, not judge them for it.
Make space for reflection, action, and discussion; in other words, for problem-based coping strategies
Model the ways we might act as engaged, supportive citizens in the face of grave events in our world.
*Remember: whether or not you intend to leave a lasting impression or not, students will remember how you responded (or did not respond) to a crisis and how they felt in the face of that.
In times of crisis, our first instinct may be to retreat from collectively processing the situation at hand(link is external)(link is external). However, when we fail to acknowledge these moments of crisis, students may assume we do not care, even if that is the furthest thing from the truth! This, then, may lead students to feel disconnected from their classroom community, and that their class is disconnected from the world around them and their lived experiences. Particularly at the university level, students may feel passionately about a response being necessary and look to their instructors to provide examples of how to act in the face of tragedy and injustice.
When instructors make space for this awareness in the wake of challenging events, students may show up hungry for opportunities to actively engage these issues beyond their peers and residential environments. Showing the connections between life and learning makes learning more powerful, meaningful, and enduring. How, then, can we go about addressing these difficult moments in our classes to support our students as they process?