Faculty Messages to Students in Times of Fear, Anger and Stress

In the wake of the 2016 election and the circulation of racist hate messages to some African-American Penn students, many Penn instructors reached out to reassure their students and let them know the faculty care about students and stand with them. Samples of those messages, presented anonymously, are below. These messages are intended to help faculty draft their own messages to concerns that may come up for the future.

EMAILS TO CLASSES

Hello Everybody,

This time of year can get stressful as the Fall semester ends, and work piles up.  But this season now seems especially challenging.  So as Thanksgiving approaches, I’d like to say how thankful I am to have students like you all: talented, engaged, and open-minded.  (I’ll take some hope for the future from that fact).  In any case, if you need to talk to me, whether about class or because you feel worried about things in general, please feel free to reach out. 

Dear classes,

I write to you to express how devastated I am by the news of the racist hate crime directed yesterday at the community I share with you, at your own fellow students. I can only hope that you feel the rooms where I spend time with you, and indeed all of [the department’s rooms], are safe spaces where primary values are respect for our common humanity and where faculty and staff care passionately for the rights of Penn students, and hope always that they find ways to show respect and compassion for one another. I wish I could wave a magic wand and silence, chain the hate … instead all I can say is that my door is always open to any of you who undergo and are shaken by watching others undergo assaults small and large, and would like to talk or just share silent moments … with me. 

Regards to you all,

Dear [class],
With the rest of the Penn community, I have been shocked and distressed by recent events.  The importance of civil liberties, and respect for the dignity of each individual human, have always been central to my personal value system. 
Our class time has been devoted to [the discipline], and I think that is appropriate:  my job is to provide the best possible instruction to help you achieve your academic and professional goals.
That being said, I want to express my support and solidarity for the students in our class, and especially for any students who may feel personally threatened by the events of the last week, both the election and the appalling electronic messages on Friday.  As a community, we will be stronger whenever we stand together and reaffirm our support for fundamental human rights.
 
Sincerely yours,

Hi everyone,

Earlier this evening, I saw news of today’s wave of disgusting, racist group messages. I would like to stand with the President and the Provost in condemning this act of racial hatred. I would also like to say that I recognize that this is not an isolated incident, but clearly also part of a national increase in the frequency and intensity of such events which has directly affected many, many people in the days following the Presidential election. 

This is a challenging time of the semester, especially for those of you who are freshmen. Even under normal circumstances (which current circumstances fall decidedly well beyond), the academic pressures you face at Penn are great. Academic structures and systems can sometimes be dehumanizing for those subjected to them, and the sheer size of Penn can sometimes make it feel like you have few places to go for help when it is needed. Please know that I personally (and all your professors, advisors, deans, and other support people as well, I’m sure) care deeply about your individual well-being and I’m here to do whatever I can to help you thrive in spite of all those forces and individuals which would have otherwise. If you find yourself in need of help, for whatever reason, now or ever, and you don’t know where to go, please, please let me know.

Best,

Dear students,
 
By now you have received several emails about racist messages directed at students here at Penn. I will add my voice to reiterate that these messages are disgusting and beneath contempt, and have no place here.
 
It has been a privilege to get to know you each of you; you are all kind, intelligent, and always willing to help each other. Penn is better for your presence, and we are lucky to have you. So if you feel unsafe or unwelcome, I am so sorry; know that you are safe with me and welcome in my community. I recognize that I must work harder to make Penn a safe place for everyone, and I will do my best to do so.
 
To those who worry for your colleagues, friends, and others, know that you have the power to make our community stronger. Continue to be vocal in the face of wrongs, and let your friends and colleagues know that you have their back.
 
I am sorry such ugliness has touched Penn. If you need someone to take action, talk with, or simply listen, I am always here.

IN-CLASS ANNOUCEMENTS
(Faculty recalling what they said in-class)

I opened my class today by giving some remarks in support of those who were attacked, and affirming the humanity and dignity of each and every student in the room.  Then we got down to business. … I got [an email] from a student after class, who said she appreciated hearing such statements directly from a professor. … Since then I have also received another note from a student who reported having been terrified by the attacks but that he “drew comfort” from knowing faculty “support all students.”

My first class on Wednesday morning was a small [one], which happens to have considerable racial diversity.  Students were very upset and verbally expressed their dismay at the election outcome and the implications for racial attitudes in the country.  I expressed my gratitude for the opportunity to gather with people of such varied backgrounds, united by the pursuit of learning.  After the conversation, I asked if the students would be willing to take a class selfie, which we did.

Before each of my classes this week, I made a 1-2-minute statement about the recent situation. I don’t have the exact words but here is the gist of the message:
·         I’ve been alive for 14 US presidential elections and a Penn student or alumnus in all 9 in which I have been able to vote
·         I have never seen anything like what is going on on campus and in the world and it is breaking my heart
·         I don’t know what to say or do, nor do many of my colleagues
·         Just know we are feeling the fear, uncertainty and pain as keenly as you, though I can’t pretend to know how each of you feel
·         Our course content does not lend itself to dedicating class time to open discussion about the issues like philosophy, political science, or other courses might, so…
·         We’ve made the decision to simply forge ahead and teach our material as planned, but
·         Know that we are feeling and thinking about everything that is happening
I had several students come up after class to thank me.

I spent about five minutes in my … course (around 50 students …) telling them that I understand that they may be very fearful, outraged, confused, etc. and that I care about them and that I’m happy to speak with them. I also told them about the various on-campus resources for support.

 

EMAILS TO ALL STUDENTS OR MAJORS IN DEPARTMENTS OR PROGRAMS

Dear [department] students,

Along with the university leadership, the [department] faculty and staff deplore the racist and violent messages directed toward Penn students last Friday and we are committed to supporting those undergraduate students targeted in this incident.  Moreover, we remain committed to a diverse and inclusive community of scholars, wherein respect and civility are paramount to ensure the well being and to promote the success of every student in our department and across campus.

I’m will have open office hours this week for any [department] students to discuss recent events …. Please stop by.

Sincerely,

To all [department] students:

As your Chair, and on behalf of the entire [department] faculty, I’m writing to express my support and solidarity with all of you affected by the repugnant, ignorant, racist targeting of our students. This offends the mind and the soul. As someone teaching a freshman [department] class, I am personally appalled to know that any of my students have been targeted by this. This act represents the antithesis of the values we cherish, which we work every day to enshrine: learning, inclusion, and enlightenment. 

For the record: as [practitioners in our field], we seek to solve problems and make the world a better place. We face tremendous challenges in today’s world and we need every motivated, qualified person to help solve them. That means creating an environment where everyone, regardless of their race, gender, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, class, disability, or any other characteristic is welcome, supported, and fully included. Any act to disrupt our goal to create such an environment is affront to our profession and to our humanity.

How we as a community respond to this matters. I encourage you all to extend your support to your classmates; to reach out to your advisors, instructors, and support staff members as needed; and to hold your head high as we stand together to condemn this act and any others like it. Our Department, our School, and our University will not tolerate harassment of our students. 

The faculty and staff care deeply about your well-being. Having the opportunity to help educate, mentor, and train you is what motivates and drives us, and it is painful to see anyone attempt to interfere with your pursuit of your education. … If you are feeling troubled or threatened at any time, please visit or contact the student support resources available to you at Penn (see below). Further, department staff, faculty, and … academic advisors … are available as a resource during the week and by email. Additionally, and especially over the weekend, faculty and staff in the College Houses are available even if you live off-campus. I am also available this weekend to communicate with you personally by email.

with my support,

The faculty of the [department] of the University of Pennsylvania condemn the hateful, racist speech on our campus revealed this morning.  As [scholars in this field], we know too well the personal and social consequences of bigotry.  As a department, we remain committed to fostering respect for all throughout the Penn community and denounce these acts of hate in the strongest terms.

Dear [department] students,

If you need a safe space today or at any time, the [department office] is open late today and this weekend. We will not tolerate hate and we are here for you.

Please let me know if you need to talk to someone about what is happening on campus.

Please take a minute or two to read this important “public service announcement”:

Regardless of your political beliefs and your opinions on last week’s election, I think we all recognize that recent events in this country and right here on campus have been very distressing to a large number of our friends, classmates, and fellow Penn students.

I know that many of you are feeling a range of emotions these days, from fear and uncertainty, to outrage and shock, to confusion and despair.

Those of us in the [department] program — and throughout the School and University — care very much about your well-being and, as President Guttman put it, these events represent an “opportunity to draw strength from each other, listen to and support each other.”

If you are struggling to deal with or simply to understand what’s happening recently, and what implications it may have, please know that it is okay to reach out and ask for help and support, either to me or to your [department] instructors.

I don’t know whether any of us will have answers, but we are certainly happy to meet with you to talk or even just listen.

Likewise, if a friend or anyone you know is struggling, please encourage them to speak to someone as well.

Last, there are plenty of on-campus resources that are available to you and I’ve listed the ones I know about below.

I hope you will reach out to your instructors or one of these organizations if you feel it will help.

Dear [department students]:
We appreciate that this is a difficult time for all on campus because of recent racist behavior directed toward Black freshman students and the tensions preceding and surrounding the recent US Presidential Election. This is of great concern to us because we care about the wellbeing of each and every one of you and want to offer our support.  We are therefore writing this email to make it plain that you should have no hesitation in reaching out to us at any time of the day or night to talk about matters related to these events if or when you feel the need. … In paraphrasing the words of Penn’s President, Provost, and Executive Vice President, we wish to emphasize that it is essential to the core values of our community that all persons be treated with dignity and respect.

Sincerely,
 
Other Available University Resources:
Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS): 215-898-7021
Division of Public Safety: 24/7 “HELP” line, 215-898-HELP (215-898-4357)
Student Health Service: 215-746-3535
Student Intervention Services: 215-898-6081
University Chaplain’s Office: 215-898-8456    

EMAILS TO INDIVIDUAL STUDENTS

I just wanted to write to check in and and see how things are going these days.

I know the events of the past week both off- and on-campus have been quite shocking and distressing, and I know you cared deeply about the election and its implications.

I’m sure that you have a strong support network here at Penn and elsewhere but if there’s anything I can do or if you’d ever like to chat, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Likewise, I really don’t know what’s going to happen in class tomorrow but if you’re not up for it, I completely understand if you prefer not to attend. I do hope you’ll be able to make it, though, because if discussion turns to recent events (and I’m certain it will), I think the other students would benefit from hearing your thoughts.

Dear [student],

I just wanted to check in and see how you are doing in light of what’s been happening on campus. I want to make sure you are okay and have support.

Will you please let me know how you’re doing when you have a chance? And if there is anything you need?

best,