Responding to Global, National, and Penn-Based Tragedies

In the face of tragedy and mourning, in the city of Philadelphia or the wider world, students are generally very grateful when instructors say something to acknowledge the event and recognize the emotions students may be experiencing at Penn.

Simply recognizing what has happened is valuable. You do not need to say a lot if you are not comfortable doing so. Instructors need not 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.

It's also helpful to let your class know about resources that exist to help them during a stressful time. 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.