Creating Space for Dialogue and Grief
Monday, July 18, 2016
The recent events have been another tough reminder that our communities have much work to do to heal the divides and create an equitable and safe society. Student affairs professionals are especially challenged, as many of you are welcoming incoming students and their families. Some of you are also charged with assisting our campuses in making sense of what is happening. How do you serve as the voice of calm and productivity when you may be experiencing the feelings of loss, sadness, and anger?
Our student leaders may also be going through a similar emotional roller-coaster as they confront and process the issues of diversity, justice, and trauma. Having open conversations about diversity, privilege, and power on campus communities is more important than ever, but tensions may be high. Below are some resources that may help in addressing student and staff concerns and having difficult conversations.
- Acknowledging emotional reactions to diversity. Recognizing and dealing with these emotional reactions to violence is at the heart of being effective in directing our energy in positive ways. Emotional intelligence is one of the useful concepts to use; it also helps to recognize there are multiple ways of viewing the confusion or dilemmas we may face when presented with difference.
- Developing empathy and decreasing bias. Building connections on campus that allow relationships across differences to grow might be crucial for students and staff seeking forums to discuss their thoughts and feelings. Contact theory has shown that when people connect across differences, prejudice and fear is reduced and understanding of the “other” increases, allowing for deeper conversations. The ability to decrease the fear of difference and to “walk in another’s shoes” enables us to show understanding and compassion.
- Self-care for students and staff. Student affairs professionals and student leaders may experience compassion fatigue in the face of strife and pain that affects our campus communities. As we work to create inclusive environments, we need to make sure we recognize when we ourselves may be in need of support. Include our colleagues in counseling and psychological services in the conversation to ensure a safe and secure campus. Use the outreach function in the counseling services center on your campus to educate students, staff, faculty, and parents about the early symptoms of psychological distress, availability of relevant campus resources and psychoeducational events (e.g., stress reduction events, trainings), and issues regarding client confidentiality.
People choose to work in student affairs often because they are passionate about speaking up for and supporting college students, their families and communities in difficult times. We cannot forget that it is also important for us to take care of our teams and ourselves during these busy summer months.