After a Tragedy or Loss

After a Tragedy or Loss

The effects of a tragedy are often felt most intensely in the classroom. Sometimes the first face a student sees after a tragedy is their professor's. Although students who are impacted directly are often the most affected, tragedies ripple across campus and affect different people in different ways. If a professor starts class by jumping right into a lesson without acknowledging what has happened, it can feel disconcerting or upsetting to students who are often having many thoughts and feelings about what they are experiencing.

The following are suggestions for what you, as a faculty member, can do to help your students cope in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy or loss.

  1. Acknowledge what happened

    This doesn't have to take a long time. It shows your students that it's normal to be thinking about what happened.

  2. Provide an opportunity to talk

    Ask broad, open-ended questions such as, "How's everyone feeling about...?"; or "How are people reacting to..."

  3. Share your experience (if you feel comfortable)

    Sharing your experience helps humanize you. It's even okay to show emotion. If you don't feel comfortable sharing personally, that's okay too.

  4. Make sure students are aware of supports on campus

    Student Support Services (S3), the Office of Graduate Education, Student Mental Health & Counseling Services, and the Office of Religious, Spiritual, and Ethical Life are all great resources in times of tragedy. Don't worry about which one is the right referral. Often academic administrators/officers at MIT know their students and the support systems well and have valuable insight or knowledge that can help in figuring out next steps.

  5. Make accommodations for the students and for yourself as needed

    Some affected by the tragedy may need temporary accommodations with their course work. It is normal for people not to be able to function at their full capacity when trying to deal with an emotional situation. This is the time to be flexible. Some people may not feel affected by the tragedy, and that's okay too.