Georgetown’s campus is not sealed off from the surrounding world. What that means is that our community feels—sometimes powerfully, sometimes painfully—the effects of critical local, national, and international events as much as anyone else does. Students may be deeply and constructively engaged with these events, and news coverage may unsettle and even traumatize students.
Faculty in the classroom are in a unique position to help students access the resources and support they need. Students share that they are in need of spaces to engage these issues beyond their peers and residential environments and are hungry for faculty to take up that role. If we don’t seize these opportunities, students may assume that we don’t care. They may feel a jarring disconnect between their courses and the real world, between what they’re studying and their lived experience. Showing the connections between life and learning, on the other hand, makes the learning more powerful, meaningful, and enduring. And even if we’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 the community.
Of course, faculty need support, too. Although each professor’s approach may differ depending on personality, discipline, class size, experience, or other factors, you may find some of the resources below helpful. We’ve compiled information and research on how to best broach these potentially difficult conversations and make them productive, positive learning experiences. Above all, please reach out to us if we can help further.
When the world around the student is tumultuous, it’s quite possible that the world inside the student will be tumultuous as well. Our page on supporting our students’ well-being offers resources to help you attend to students’ needs in difficult times.
Given the stress and trauma students may be bringing into the classroom, particularly during difficult times, trauma-informed teaching is the approach to instruction that fits the moment. Our page on Trauma-Informed Teaching explains that this approach doesn’t require you to be a therapist but does guide you to thoughtfully consider the possibility of trauma as you make teaching decisions.
One lesson from past new cycles is the frustration and even anger that students can feel when classes ignore significant news, an approach that has often been read as apathy and as a potential example of privileged academia trying to stand apart. Acknowledging the moment and its emotional impacts, as well as then explaining our decision to move on, are important ways to honor the dignity of our students.
In other cases, we may want to address the sensitive subject more directly. Difficult discussions may be daunting, but they can also be crucially productive moments in a semester—and they can also flare up unexpectedly. Sweeping such moments aside can lead to problems, including students feeling unheard, alienated, and hurt—but you do have to work to make sure these moments are productive. On our Facilitating Difficult Discussions page we’ve compiled information and research on how to best broach these potentially difficult conversations and make them productive, positive learning experiences.
The things we see in the news will probably affect different students differently. When a natural disaster strikes, some of our students might know people in the affected areas; when hateful rhetoric or violence is directed at a group of people, students who identify with that group will probably be affected more keenly; when sexual assault is in the news, it may be especially challenging for our too-many students who have themselves experienced assault; gun violence will feel more relevant to some; when our government focuses on an issue—immigration, healthcare, criminal justice, or any of a number of other possibilities—that issue could have real-world implications for particular students.
In other words, one news story may be causing very different reactions for a class of diverse students—and almost all classes are diverse in a variety of ways, some perhaps visible and some not immediately visible. How we support these students therefore also becomes an issue of inclusivity—making sure all of our students have access to learning, including when they’re suffering. This is a central area of focus for us at CNDLS. Visit our Inclusive Pedagogy Toolkit for some tips and ideas, or explore some of our other Inclusive Pedagogy resources, or diversity resources more generally on our campus.
CNDLS is committed to the values of diversity, inclusion, well-being, and social justice throughout our community, inside the classroom and out. We would be happy to talk with you about further strategies for your particular teaching situation. Call us at 202-687-0625 or request a confidential consultation by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.