Where Do You Start? Holding Space During Difficult Times

This resource focuses on helping CAS personnel locate effective ways to support students in response to campus wide, local, national, and/or global incidents that might impact the health, well-being, and functioning of students you each, mentor, advise, and/or supervise.

As a professional, students are accustomed to you serving as an expert in your area of specialty. Many students might feel supported if you’re willing to do the following:

  • Understand your role. Because many national and global crises stem from longstanding historical issues and tensions it’s tempting to try to offer solutions. While gathering some basic information through credible sources might clarify some things for you personally the most salient concern is being present for students.
  • Express awareness. Acknowledge you are aware something challenging, disturbing, tragic, etc. has occurred, describe the situation briefly, and share your concern that it might impact students.
  • Hold space. Offer to either designate space (e.g., during class, during a work shift, etc.) in the moment for students to express concerns about the issue. Alternately, you could note your interest in offering space and time outside of the immediate setting to process the incident with students.
  • Recognize the different lenses of your students. If you decide to offer a space for conversation recognize that students might bring different perspectives based on race, nationality, gender, and disciplinary interests, among other areas. These might inform how well-versed they are about a situation and/or the nature of their response. What’s important is to avoid presuming all students are informed of or have a context for the issue.
  • Establish expectations for the discussion. Be prepared to establish some clear parameters for the discussion so it is structured and productive for students.
  • Know and share campus resources. A helpful way to respond to these scenarios is to listen, empathize, and refer to students to additional resources. For example, if students seem unusually stressed, reminding them of campus resources (please refer to the list below) such as counseling services is appropriate. If students approach you individually about their well-being you might also inquire about their available support systems which could include family, friends, mentors, coaches, etc. Healthy boundaries are important; optimally, you want students to know that you are a resource and can connect them to those with more specialized knowledge in their areas of need.
  • Follow up and be flexible. One way to remain engaged with students is to send an email after the initial discussion reminding students that you are a resource. If you sense the issue continues to impact students you might offer some options regarding deadlines, work hours, and other areas where there is room for flexibility.
  • Ask yourself: Is this a teachable moment? Even if the incident falls outside of what your academic field or professional role addresses typically it might offer a unique opportunity for engagement. You could share, for example, how your field or profession has wrestled with challenging issues through initiatives launched by professional associations.

Campus Resources (a selective list):