Strategies and Resources for Responding to Critical National Events in our Classrooms


The violence that erupted at the University of Virginia on August 12 shocked campuses around the world. As President DeGioia reminds us, we need to “embrace this moment and engage our imaginations in ways that enlarge and deepen our commitment to the common good.”

For faculty, this includes responding to critical events in our classrooms. If we don’t, students may assume that we don’t care. Even if you’re not sure what to say, simply acknowledging painful events and leaving time to reflect on them can help students understand that they are supported by our community. Although your approach may differ depending on your personality, discipline, class size, experience, or other factors, the resources that follow can help you address national events in your courses.

Strategies for Teaching in Difficult Times

Supporting Our Students’ Well-Being

When the world around the student is tumultuous, it’s quite possible that the world inside the student will be tumultuous as well. Particularly in difficult times, it’s important to keep an eye on how students are doing, and to be ready to share campus safety net resources, such as Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS), Health Education Services (HES), the Center for Multicultural Equity & Access (CMEA), the LGBTQ Resource Center, and Campus Ministry. You might also consider bringing well-being more explicitly into the classroom as a topic worthy of discussion, and perhaps relevant to the course material at hand. Could well-being be one of your goals for student development? For more on all this, see our Teaching Commons page on Teaching Well-Being.

Difficult Conversations in the Classroom

Difficult discussions may be daunting, but they can also be crucially productive moments in a semester—and sweeping such moments aside when they flare up can lead to problems, including students feeling unheard, alienated, and hurt—but you do have to work to make sure these moments are productive.

Handling difficult conversations comes in two phases. The first is the laying of a foundation for productive discussions. At the very beginning of the semester it’s helpful to acknowledge that these kinds of moments may crop up—you could even name particular topics that are likely to emerge or that are probably on people’s minds—and to give students guidance in advance on how to handle them, including possible ground rules for discussion (e.g., focus on ideas, not people; connect comments to course material; etc.). You might need to prepare yourself as well. What are your hot buttons? What’s likely to make you uneasy or upset? What will you do when your buttons get pushed? Once you’ve done the preparation, the second phase of handling difficult discussions is dealing with the discussions as they happen—whether you plan them or whether they flare up unexpectedly (e.g., reminding students of ground rules, using the blackboard to distance ideas from individual speakers). For more specific strategies—ideas for ground rules, ways to structure and manage these conversations, etc.—see our Teaching Commons pages on Inclusive Pedagogy and Difficult Discussions.

Charlottesville-Specific Resources

For those who want to discuss the specifics of the events in Charlottesville, the following resources may be helpful:

Inclusive Pedagogy Resources

Workshops, Programs, and Support

Join the Georgetown University Scholarly Communication Committee for a panel discussion—Op-Eds, Media Interviews and Social Media: Faculty Scholarship in the Public Square—on faculty scholarship and the popular media on Friday, October 6 in the Murray Room on the 5th floor of the Lauinger Library. In this symposium, explore how faculty bring their research and scholarship to the attention of the public and work toward informing and influencing public discourse and policymaking. Register here.

Upcoming fall workshops in CNDLS’ Inclusive Pedagogy Workshop Series will be announced soon. Upon request, CNDLS also offers tailored workshops and facilitated discussions to departments, programs and faculty groups on a variety of teaching topics, including:

  • Teaching in Difficult Times
  • Facilitating Difficult Discussions
  • Implicit Bias and Self-Awareness
  • Meeting the Goals of the Diversity Requirement
  • Syllabus Design for Inclusivity
  • Content Warnings and Student Needs

The Doyle Engaging Difference Program and the Engelhard Project on Teaching to the Whole Person also offer resources to support diversity and well-being through our classrooms.

Doyle Diversity Grants of up to $500 are available to faculty on a first come first serve basis to assist faculty in helping students engage with diversity or gain a greater recognition of their own positionality vis-a-vis issues of plurality and social justice. Further details and how to apply can be found at:

We would be happy to talk with you about further strategies within the context of your particular teaching setting. Call us at 202-687-0625 or request a confidential consultation by emailing

CNDLS is committed to the values of diversity, inclusion, well-being, and social justice throughout our community, inside the classroom and out.