Responding in Class to Penn-Based and National Tragedies

In the face of a tragedy, on campus or in the wider world, students are generally very grateful when instructors say something in class to acknowledge the tragedy and recognize the emotions students may be experiencing.

Simply recognizing what has happened is valuable. You do not need to say a lot if you are not comfortable doing so. Instructors do not need to act as therapists or counselors.  Each instructor is different and the way you comment should be individual to yourself and your class. For ideas, consider phrases such as:

  • “I was so sorry to hear about . . .
  • “I know many people have been affected by . . .”
  • “Recently the entire campus has been saddened 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.


For some more detailed and specific examples of ways to address your students in times of stress, see this collection of emails and in-class comments. These examples demonstrate how some Penn faculty addressed their students in the wake of racist incidents on campus; they can also illustrate language to concern for students during a variety of difficult circumstances. 

Letting your class know about resources that exist to help them during a stressful time can also be very helpful. In particular, consider reminding students of the availability of Penn’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS, 215.898.7021), the Office of the Chaplain (215.898.8456) and the peer RAP line (Reach a Peer, 215.573.2727 (2RAP)) or Penn Benjamins. You can also consult with CAPS yourself about talking about events with your students.

Additionally, be aware that stressful experiences can affect students’ ability to engage with coursework.  You may want to offer students extra review sessions or additional office hours if they seem to be struggling.  Occasionally instructors will grant extensions on work as well. Some instructors invite students to talk with them individually.

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.