Chair of the Faculty Mimi Chapman sent the following message to the faculty this morning. The email may be viewed at this link.
October 18, 2021
Dear Faculty Colleagues:
On Saturday, a faculty member called and described the toll last week’s deaths have taken on faculty and graduate students, particularly, but not limited to those teaching first year students. She described learning through unofficial channels that a student in one of her large lecture classes had died and the even greater difficulty experienced by a young colleague who learned that one of the lost students was in her much smaller class. Many of us will be returning to class this week, not knowing what to say, what can be acknowledged, or what is ‘best practice’ in these situations. As if there is a right or wrong answer.
First, I want to acknowledge that institutionally such questions are difficult and are in large part guided by families and their wishes. This is the right stance even though it leaves unanswered questions. What do we say to our classes that is truthful, yet respectful of the family involved? What do we say that will help our students feel seen, heard, and will move us to some new state of balance where teaching can resume?
I’ve gone through the helpful information that has been circulating this week such as these recommendations from the Center for Faculty Excellence. Below, I’ve written a script of something I might say to a class as a starting point for you to consider. You might choose to say more, less, or otherwise make this statement your own. The particulars are not as important as the integrity and sincerity of your words. Here it goes:
Before we begin today, I want you to know, I am struggling with all that has happened in the last week. Because of privacy concerns, there is a lot I don’t know and a lot I can’t say. In fact, you may know more than I do about the students who have died. What I do know is that we are in this semester together and I want to do whatever I can to make our time something that enriches your college life even through this painful time. As I am given more information that I am allowed to share, I’ll share it. If there are things you’d like to talk with me about individually, I will listen. If you need help getting to people with more experience and knowledge about mental health, I’ll help you get to them.
When people leave us too soon for reasons we don’t understand, it leaves a wound that can’t be healed with one wellness day or four, one exam delay, by therapy dogs in the pit, or muffins in the dorm. Those things help. They let us know others value us and want to care for us. But depending on how close we were to those we lost, healing without any scarring may be more than we can expect. We’ve been changed by this experience. Through it we will learn new things about who we were, who we are, and who we want to be in the world. I am your professor and your ally. We will walk through this semester together. I am on your side.
Take this as a suggestion and make it your own. As you head into class this week, know that it is your humanity that will be balm to your students. They will watch your example as much as they hear your words. You do not have to be perfect, just real, just you. You are enough and I am grateful for each of you.
Grace and Peace,
Mimi V. Chapman, MSW, PhD
Chair of the Faculty
Frank A. Daniels Distinguished Professor for Human Service Policy Information
Associate Dean for Doctoral Education
School of Social Work
Resources for students
Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) walk-in hours from 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday.
After hours, call 919-966-3658 for counseling and support.
Other resources include:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or in Spanish by calling 1-888-628-9454
- Text Support Line – text STEVE to 741741 to connect with a trained crisis counselor