Responding to Tragedy and Crisis
Campus, regional, national and international tragedies can happen anywhere and anytime. All of us have experienced and coped with several in recent years, including sudden student deaths, a global pandemic, mass violence, hate crimes, acts of terrorism, and natural disasters.
Because no two tragedies, their impacts, and campus needs are the same, the University assesses and provides support to the campus community that best fits the tragedy. The University has responded to many tragedies over the years and works with students, families, faculty and staff to provide care and support.
Many offices and programs already exist to help provide support to the campus and reaching out to them after a tragedy often is no different than before. Visiting an office’s website or calling them about additional offerings following a tragedy is a good way to learn more.
Several offices that typically help provide support to the campus after a tragedy include:
Dean of Students Office / CARE Team for student support and help accessing needed resources
University Counseling Center for emotional support to students
Human Resources and Encompass for faculty and staff needs and emotional support
Grand Valley Police Department
Division of Inclusion & Equity
Student Academic Success Center
- Do not share information publicly until allowed. If you are at all in doubt as to when and what you can share, check with your supervisor or call the Dean of Students Office at 616-331-3585.
- Consult with your supervisor or the Dean of Students Office to see if there is any approved statement to be used within the classroom setting or before offering to collect cards, gifts, etc.
- Do not overshare your personal impact and be mindful of what and how you ask students to share
- Everyone, including yourself, will react to tragedy, grief, and loss differently
- Remember to seek support for yourself and utilize your natural support systems
- Utilize professional support such as through the GVSU Employee Assistance Program
- In the Classroom: Some professors may choose to use class time to
talk about a tragic event. Depending on the nature of the event and
the class setting, a shorter conversation may be better than an
entire class period so students who prefer not to discuss their
reactions feel less pressure. Shifting back to class material for a
portion of the class or returning to your normal schedule may also
be helpful and comforting to those students, who need normalcy,
routine, and academics/work to occupy their thoughts.
- Be aware that some students may have been directly impacted by a tragedy. For example, a close friend of the student who may have died, involved in the tragic incident being discussed, etc. Because of this it may be good practice to email the class beforehand to give them a heads up that a part of the class will be used to talk about the tragedy and students who do wish to be there for that portion know when it will be good for them to join that portion of the class session.
- Things you can do:
- Keep yourself informed with the facts. Students will be looking for information – be careful to not spread or reinforce rumors or confusion. It is important for students, faculty, and staff to understand that the facts may take time to be known and that they may be limited due to privacy issues.
- Be thoughtful about your class response. The Dean of Students Office and the UCC are available to consult for guidance. Tragedies that are more personally connected to class members, unexpected, on-campus, or following other recent tragic events can be more traumatic.
- It is OK to set ground rules for your discussion time. Some recommended ones include avoiding blame and speculation, respecting each other's views, avoiding inflammatory language, no pressure to share, and that you can’t guarantee confidentiality. (See above about prior notice to class members)
- If the tragedy was believed or known to be a death by
suicide this can have additional reactions and questions
that you may not have the answers to and that is OK.
However, you can share:
- Remind your students that everyone, including yourself has their own way of responding to tragedies, grief, and loss and that one way is not better than another.
- Remember you don’t need to fix it, make it all better, or do anything - being genuine, attentive, caring, and a listener is already doing a lot to support your students.
- If you choose not to provide time to talk during class, at least consider acknowledging the event happened and that you are aware students may be impacted. Sharing resources for them to get support if they wish, helps demonstrate your awareness and displays empathy.
- It is important to be sensitive that your students may not be performing at their peak (concentration, memory, etc.) because of the way stress and grief can impair cognitive abilities. They may need extra support from their faculty such as: extend a deadline to complete assignments, tutoring assistance, provide make-up work or examinations, to delay an exam, an absence to attend memorial events, etc. If you make accommodations in response to the tragedy be certain to maintain the professional nature of the faculty/student relationship and maintain consistency of academic expectations. The Office of Disability Support Resources would be a good resource to consult with or refer individual students to if they need ongoing support. It may be helpful to also make sure students you are particularly concerned about are linked into the CARE system. You can submit a CARE report at www.gvsu.edu/care/.
- Be sure to remind students about appropriate and applicable resources for support based on the nature of the event (e.g., the Dean of Students Office CARE Team, University Counseling Center, Office of Multicultural Affairs, LGBT Resource Center, Housing Staff, Interfaith Ministry Groups, etc.). The University Counseling Center provides online resources for students that you can share on a variety of topics such as grief, loss, and stress.
- Please reach out for the support you need. This could include many things such as emotional support, academic support, etc. While many people will reach out to their natural support systems, the University Counseling Center is available to currently enrolled students and you can call them at 616-331-3266 to learn more about their services or setup and appointment. Not sure what you need or have several needs, one resource that may be a good place to start is the GVSU CARE Team. You can connect with them by filling out a form at CARE - Grand Valley State University (gvsu.edu). Sometimes based on the incident and what information is known a member of the CARE Team may reach out to students they are aware of who have been impacted. This does not signify anything more than concern and to make sure someone is aware of the resources that are available.
- The University Counseling Center also provides information and resources for self-care and topics to help cope. You explore these at Self-Help Directory - University Counseling Center - Grand Valley State University (gvsu.edu)
- Reach out to your professors and talk to them about what you are going through and see if they can work with you during this time.
- Remember to take care of yourself Student Wellness - Grand Valley State University (gvsu.edu) with healthy self-care practices and that everyone grieves in their own way and on their own schedule.
Students who’ve faced a major financial impact based on a tragedy should fill out the GVSU Financial Hardship Request
If a friend, loved one, or family member has been through a tragedy there are some things that you can do to help support them as they seek out their natural support network.
- Ask what they need for support and how they need it. Asking for their permission is important. Don’t take the need for space personally.
- Listen! Be supportive! Don’t be critical!
- Spend time with the person.
- Remember grieving is individualized and not everyone may grieve the same as the person offering help or they may grieve differently for one loss than they did for another loss.
- Reassure them.
- Help them with everyday tasks like cleaning, cooking, caring for family, taking care of children. Sometimes it may be helpful to replace “can I help you with anything?” with “I would really like to help, is there anything specific you need?” or “I/We would like to do _____ for you, is that OK?”
- Give them some private time.
- Make sure they are taking time for themselves.
- Encourage them to disconnect from news or social media postings of the event or from other stressful events that could be stressful or triggering.
- Don’t take their frustration, anger, or other feelings personally.
- Don’t tell them that they are “lucky it wasn’t worse.” A traumatized person is not consoled by these statements. Instead, tell them that you are sorry such an event has occurred and you want to understand and assist.
- Be careful of too many questions. Let the person take the lead on what they are comfortable with offering an open-ended invitation (ex. “You don’t have to tell me anything, I just wanted you to know you are in my thoughts and I am here for you if you need to talk.”)
- Provide encouraging statements and affirmations.
- If you’re worried about their reactions or if they are more severe than you feel comfortable with, get them to talk to a professional or seek consultation yourself to see what to do to help.
- File a CARE referral to have someone from the University reach out to support the student: https://www.gvsu.edu/care/
- Call 9-1-1 if they need immediate assistance or are experiencing suicidal thoughts, thoughts of self-harm or harming others, or if they have serious medical issues such as chest pains, panic attacks, etc.).