Faculty/Staff Outline for Supporting Students

Tips for opening a conversation with students about distressing events or mental health concerns.

As faculty and staff, one of our fundamental goals is to support students during their time at UIW, both with their academic career and emotional wellbeing. Recent violent events, and on-going civil unrest has impacted the wellbeing and mental health of our UIW students and surrounding communities. The outline below provides some suggestions for how you can support your students by opening up a dialogue in your classrooms, with the goal of your students feeling heard and understood. It can be most helpful to facilitate discussions in a timely manner following painful, traumatic, or violent events.

  • Invite students to share their thoughts and reactions, while informing them that they are not required to participate. Should students choose not to speak, perhaps remind them of your office hours, e-mail, or other supportive spaces on campus.
  • Remind students that their unique perspectives are valuable and that the focus of the conversation will be on support, not judgment. Depending on the nature of event that prompted this discussion, it may be helpful to explicitly affirm that we value our diverse student body at UIW and that our students belong and are valued in our community.
  • Sharing some of your own thoughts/feelings may invite others to speak (“I’m carrying great sadness related to these events and the potential impact on you all”).
  • Remember, the focus of these discussions is for students to feel heard and validated. Providing empathetic statements and reflections can help convey your support.
    • "It sounds like you are very concerned with how your family may be impacted”
    • “I’m hearing how angry and frustrating you feel due to these events."
  • If having these conversations remotely, invite students to share their reactions on a chat box.
  • It may be helpful to return to this conversation in the future to check in on how students are coping.
    • “It’s been a few weeks since we last check-in. How are all of you doing?”
  • Consider flexibility: if a student approaches you and asks for an extension on account of being negatively impacted by events in the community, aim to have a conversation about accommodations that still hold the student accountable for learning while honoring their unique reaction and process to the events at hand. 
  • Talk to the student in private when both of you have time and are not rushed or preoccupied. Give the student your undivided attention. It is possible that just a few minutes of effective listening on your part may be enough to help the student feel comfortable about what to do next. 
  • Be direct and nonjudgmental. Be direct and specific. Express your concern in behavioral, nonjudgmental terms. 
    • For example, say something like "I've noticed you've been absent from class lately, and I'm concerned," rather than "Why have you missed so much class lately?" 
  • Listen sensitively. Listen to thoughts and feelings in a sensitive, non-threatening way. Communicate understanding by repeating back the essence of what the student has told you. Try to include both the content and feelings. 
    • For example, "It sounds like you're not accustomed to such a big campus and you're feeling left out of things." Remember to let the student talk. 
  • Refer. Point out that help is available, and emphasize that seeking help is a sign of strength. Make some suggestions about places to go for help. Tell the student what you know about the recommended person or service. 
  • Follow up. Following up is an important part of the process. Check with the student later to find out how he or she is doing, and provide support as appropriate. 

Dealing with students in distress can be a stressful and taxing experience. Be sure to take care of yourself, too. Seek support from colleagues and supervisors. It may also be helpful to talk with a counselor. If you're interested in counseling options for yourself or a UIW colleague, please contact the Employee Assistance Program at 1-888-319-7819.

Please know that Behavioral Health Services remains steadfast in our support and availability to you. Students can contact Behavioral Health Services by calling (210) 832-5656.  If after hours, students can call CareConnect at 1 (888) 857-5462 and go to Behavioral Health Services to complete paperwork for counseling.

Please direct students to our website to learn about the vast amount of services available to them, including talking to a counselor one-on-one, group therapy, workshops on topics such as coping with anxiety and managing painful emotions, self-care apps, and more. Faculty and staff may also contact Behavioral Health Services to consult about a student of concern or discuss further how to facilitate these discussions.


(Content accredited to University of Illinois at Chicago)