Note: A version of this article was posted on March 7, 2022. Given the approach of the second year of the war in Ukraine and the recent earthquake in Türkiye and Syria, we have updated it with additional thoughts and resources. We are drawing your attention to this post as a potential aid in navigating in-class conversations and activities concerning tragic world events and pointing your students to ways they can cope–and help.
Thoughts, away, you heavy clouds of autumn! For now springtime comes, agleam with gold! Shall thus in grief and wailing for ill fortune All the tale of my young years be told? No, I want to smile through tears and weeping, Sing my songs where evil holds its sway, Hopeless, a steadfast hope forever keeping, I want to live ! You, thoughts of grief, away!
On poor, sad, fallow land, unused to tilling, I’ll sow blossoms, brilliant in hue, I’ll sow blossoms where the frost lies, chilling, I’ll pour bitter tears on them as dew. And those burning tears shall melt, dissolving All that mighty crust of ice away, Maybe blossoms will come up, unfolding Singing springtime for me, too, some day…
– Lesya Ukrainka, Contra spem spero (1895),
translated by Vera Rich
Go directly to:
- Encourage Information Seeking – but Also Relieve The Cognitive Load
- Read an Inspirational Quote
- Take a Moment of Silence
- Minding The Cognitive Load
- Assigning Relevant Activities or Materials
- Facilitating a Discussion
- Identify Vetted Sources for Donations
Baruch proudly welcomes nationals and immigrants from many countries. In the past, we have had students who have borne the trauma of losing one’s family, home and sense of well-being in the world. Recently, many in the Baruch community–or their families and friends–have been directly affected by several traumatic events around the world, or may know a person who has. (See this CUNYverse post). These individuals–and anyone from disaster- and conflict-torn lands who ends up here–need the empathy and support of their mentors and peers. If you know someone like this–even if you are unsure of what to say–ask if you may help, and how (help might mean listening to them, walking with them or volunteering to spend a bit of time with them and their families). Having a well-meaning person reach out could make a real difference.
If you are unsure of your ability to provide emotional support but feel the need to show that you are aware of the crisis’ impact on your students, acknowledge the event by providing your students with resources for dealing with it.
The Baruch College Counseling Center offers students individual and group counseling. You can encourage students to make an appointment with the Counseling Center. Should you be concerned that a student is in crisis, you can reach out to the campus crisis intervention team.
Those in our community affected by the war might be suffering from trauma and grief, possibly compounded by anxiety over their immigration status, financial circumstances and isolation in these pandemic times. If you know someone in this situation, encourage them to get in touch with the Baruch International Student Service Center and see how their services can help. CUNY Citizenship Now is a resource for questions surrounding immigration status or services. Another on-campus service that may help students feel less alone is the Baruch Conversation Partners Program, which matches non-native and native speakers.
Potential impact on Baruch students and what instructors can do
Many people have been watching the violence in Ukraine with shock and anguish. Since Russia’s declaration of war on Ukraine on February 24, 2022 thousands have been killed and many others deprived of their homes, unleashing a refugee crisis of previously unseen proportions. As the world approached the grim milestone of a year of this conflict, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake shook northern Türkiye and Syria, resulting in a death toll that has already surpassed 40,000 and is affecting as many as 7 million children.
As we know from psychology studies, students need not be directly related or personally involved to experience anxiety or trauma. The effects can be based on “the sheer magnitude and scale (events with wide media coverage)” and “the degree to which students are likely to identify with the victim(s) of the tragedy and feel like ’vicarious victims’” (Huston & DiPietro, 2007, p. 219).
The anxieties students—and teachers—bring into the classroom in response to a crisis can affect student learning, as documented by psychological, cognitive, and neuroscience research. In these situations, instructors are faced not only with the challenge of coping with the event personally, but also with the task of managing the responses of their students.
Whether and how to broach the subject of a tragedy is always at the instructor’s discretion. However, as a most basic response, it can be helpful to acknowledge the event in class in a humane way. Students report that “just about anything” is helpful, “regardless of whether the instructor’s response required relatively little effort, such as asking for one minute of silence…, or a great deal of effort and preparation, such as incorporating the event into the lesson plan or topics for the course” (p. 216). The exception, the least helpful and even most problematic responses are a “lack of response” and “acknowledging that [the crisis] had occurred and saying that the class needs to go on with no mention of opportunities for review or extra help” (p. 218). Over the past two years, our survey team has found the same when students reflected on their trauma during the COVID-19 pandemic–going on with the class as if nothing has changed leaves many pained and frustrated. An instructor does not have to have a discussion about the event in class, especially if they feel unprepared or concerned about having a challenging conversation. However, there are several teaching strategies that students find helpful in times of crisis.
encourage Information Seeking – but Also Relieve The Cognitive Load
Your students may have questions or be confused about what is happening. Encourage them to read authoritative coverage from The New York Times, The Washington Post (build a search criteria by using keywords or subject terms, and the date range limiter), Foreign Affairs and The Atlantic Monthly. Baruch students have a subscription to all these journalistic resources through Newman Library (see the links).
Being informed and armed with information from reputable sources is important. At the same time, as we know from the CTL COVID-19 Student Experience Survey, traumatic events affect students’ cognitive load, so maintaining focus on their studies can become a struggle. Our students repeatedly request compassion and understanding in such situations–however, those who are suffering may not want to speak to you directly about what is happening. This awareness may lead you to be lenient with due dates or accommodate a reduced workload, both in terms of introducing new concepts and expecting students to exercise typical study habits. Holding an extra review session or revisiting class information at a later date may also be helpful.
Read An Inspirational Quote
This can be a poem, an image or a prose passage that can reinforce your connection with the students and acknowledge our shared humanity. Some words of caution: inform yourself on the cultural context of the quote to make sure it is appropriate to the moment and be careful with religious references (i.e. prayers) since these are not universally shared among the student population.
Take a Moment Of Silence
Taking a moment of silence is just one minute of your class that gives everyone a chance to reflect as a part of a community and demonstrates the instructor’s sense of humanity.
A 2007 survey by Therese A. Huston and Michelle DiPietro (2007) reveals that “from the students’ perspective, it is best to do something. Students report that “just about anything” is helpful, “regardless of whether the instructor’s response required relatively little effort, such as asking for one minute of silence…, or a great deal of effort and preparation, such as incorporating the event into the lesson plan or topics for the course” (p. 216).
Allow students time to reflect privately in writing or express their emotions through art.
Minding The Cognitive Load
Such events affect students’ cognitive load, as “working memory capacity is reduced immediately following an acutely stressful experience” (p. 218). This awareness may lead you to be lenient with due dates or adapt your syllabus for the week following the crisis to accommodate a reduced workload, both in terms of introducing new concepts and expecting students to exercise typical study habits. Holding a review session for material covered during the crisis may also be helpful.
Assigning relevant activities or materials
Huston and DiPietro cite specific activities that helped students cope after 9/11: “College students who participated in a journal writing exercise or who listened to a story that addressed themes relevant to the terrorist attacks showed greater improvements and fewer signs of trauma” (p. 209). Consider how you may “use the lens of [your] discipline to examine the events surrounding the tragedy,” such as assigning a relevant poem, connecting it to a similar historical moment, or examining the engineering concepts involved in a relevant structure (p. 219).
Facilitating a discussion
If you would like to talk directly with your students about the crisis, you might consider contacting the University Counseling Center (UCC) for ideas on how to approach such a conversation. Additionally, the information below may also be useful in discussing a tragedy with your students. There are a number of factors that can affect how a conversation about a crisis might go. As Deborah Shmueli (2003), a professor at Haifa University in Israel, has suggested, some things to take into consideration are as follows:
- Students’ perceptions about how the crisis has affected them personally
- Students’ perceptions about others whom they consider to be affected
- Issues deemed important to each person or group
- Institutional, financial, and other impediments to successful communication
Taking these factors into account, researchers and practitioners who study communication make the following suggestions for difficult conversations (Chaitlin 2003).
- Acknowledge both verbal and nonverbal communication: In a discussion or conversation, silence can make a teacher feel uncomfortable, but silence and other non-verbal behaviors can be just as vital to a productive conversation as words are. It is tempting to fill silence with variations on the question asked, but doing so can inhibit students’ abilities to think through the issue and to prepare to share their thoughts with their classmates. If students repeatedly need extremely long silences, however, the teacher should invite conversation as to why students do not feel comfortable sharing with their classmates.
- Let students set the ground rules: Allowing students to set the ground rules not only can help students create a space where they feel safe to share their thoughts, emotions, and ideas, but can also help students find power at a time when the crisis has left them feeling powerless. Ground rules should be set before the conversation begins and reiterated every time thereafter that the conversation is continued.
- Encourage students to be empathetic listeners: As Kate Murphy reminds us in You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why it Matters (New York, NY: Celadon Books, 2020), in conversation, people are often thinking about what they want to say in response rather than fully listening to the individual who is talking. In addition, if the crisis at hand is difficult to handle emotionally or if classmates feel defensive, empathic listening becomes all the more challenging. Pointing out such dynamics to students can at least encourage them to think about their positions as listeners and remind them that their interlocutors often do not seek or expect them to problem-solve, but provide a sympathetic ear.
Allow freedom of participation
If students feel uncomfortable, allow them to leave. If they feel coerced into the conversation, then they are likely to withdraw from the conversation or guard closely what they say.
Balance the power in the classroom as much as possible
Ensure that no one student or group of students has more rights than others and take care that all receive equal respect.
Provide a predictable forum
For continuing conversations, provide a format and space that is familiar and predictable for your students so that they feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts and experiences.
Allot a few minutes at the beginning of class for emotional check-ins
These can be done through a feeling chart or feeling wheel (such as this open-source example) or, in an online or hybrid class these may be done through anonymous polls (rate your mood on a scale) or chat emojis.
Identify Vetted Sources For Donations
“Pick a cause and donate. Please. It will make a difference.”
-Ukraine Historian Timothy Snyder, Twitter, March 3, 2022
You may want to identify or even facilitate a way to help those most affected by the crisis, such as collecting money, donating goods, running a benefit with proceeds to go to the victims, or other ways of supporting rescue and relief efforts. Some students would like to know about ways they can try to influence the public and political agenda, such as joining protests or writing editorials. Such “problem-focused coping” is among the most helpful responses identified by students and one explanation for the “lower levels of long-term stress” among people “indirectly affected” by 9/11 (Huston & DiPietro, 2007, p. 216-218).
Here are some aggregators with links for donations to Ukraine and context on specific organizations in The Washington Post and Global Citizen (click on the links). Below are two international organizations from this list with direct links to payment methods:
- The International Rescue Committee’s Ukraine Response: on the ground organization helping refugees, focused on providing food, medical care and emergency support. Click the embedded link to make a donation.
- The Voices of Children Foundation has helped children traumatized by conflict in Ukraine since 2015. Click the embedded link to make a donation.
While the situation is still unfolding, here is a list of charities and organizations that are collecting funds to provide support for Türkiye and Syria earthquake relief efforts, courtesy of this article in The Guardian. In addition, consider donating to Save the Children, a reputable organization which focuses on helping children in the affected regions.
Studying the Topic & Context
The Newman Library is a great place to start when looking for literature on any subject. The Librarian Subject Specialists can help you find sources on most topics, or at least point you in the right direction. You may also utilize the library’s Research Guides available by subject area.
As a starting point of reference, below are some key sources on trauma-informed pedagogy and the war in Ukraine.
Sources on trauma-informed pedagogy and communication:
- Carello, Janice. “Examples of Trauma-Informed Teaching and Learning in College Classrooms,” Trauma-Informed Teaching (blog), March 2020; SAMHSA, 10-11.
- Chaitin, Julia. “Creating Safe Spaces for Communication.” Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: July 2003.
- Huston, Therese A., & DiPietro, Michele. (2007). In the eye of the storm: Students’ perceptions of helpful faculty actions following a collective tragedy. In D. R. Robertson & L. B. Nilson (Eds.) To Improve the Academy: Vol 25. Resources for faculty, instructional, and organizational development. Bolton, MA: Anker. Pp. 207-224.
- Micciche, Laura R. “Review of Writing Through Trauma: The Emotional Dimensions of Teaching Writing, by Charles M. Anderson, Marian M. MacCurdy, and Michelle Payne.” Composition Studies 29, no. 1 (2001): 131–41.
- Shmueli, Deborah. “Conflict Assessment.” Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Research Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: October 2003.
Key sources on Ukrainian history and society, and Russian geopolitics:
- The American Historical Association resources, including sources for teaching
- Hill, Fiona. (2015). Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.
- Hillis, Faith. Putin vs. Ukrainian History. Interview with Medusa.io, podcast audio, February 22, 2022.
- _______ and Naleppa, Monika. The Context Behind the Crisis in Ukraine, video interview, Conversations@Graham, the University of Chicago, March 4, 2022.
- Pinkham, Sophie. (2016). Black Square: Adventures in Post-Soviet Ukraine. New York, NY: W. W. Norton.
- Plokhy, Serhii. (2021). The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine. New York, NY: Basic Books.
- Snyder, Timothy. (2012). Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. New York, NY: Basic Books.
- Yaffa, Joshua. (2020). Between Two Fires: Truth, Ambition, and Compromise in Putin’s Russia. New York, NY: Tim Duggan Books.
Literature on the topic of Ukraine’s conflict with Russia going back to 2014:
- Belorusets, Evgenia. (2022). Lucky Breaks. New York, NY: New Directions.
- Kaminsky, Ilya. (2019). Deaf Republic. Minneapolis, MN: Graywolf Press.
- Zhadan, Serhii. (2021). The Orphanage. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
- ___________ (2016). Voroshilovgrad. Dallas, TX: Deep Vellum Publishing.
This Baruch College-CUNY Center for Teaching and Learning resource authored by Katherine Tsan is partially adapted from Vanderbilt University’s guide Teaching in Times of Crisis, which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, as is all Baruch CTL site content unless otherwise specified.