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Responding to Tragedy: Teaching in This Moment

Wed Dec 1, 2021 at 11:30 AM

Any mass shooting strikes us deeply, especially when they involve places of learning. Today, the impact is deeper and more painful, as the most deadly shooting since 2018 occurred a short drive from Oakland University’s campus. During such a difficult year, it makes us wonder how much more we can bear.

We wanted to include some guidance on what is best to do in your classrooms (whether on-campus or online) to understand the impact this has on students and how to make them feel supported. It does not have to be a lot, but doing something is key. In short, acknowledge the pain everyone is feeling and do what you can to be responsive. We also include OU teaching-related resources.

It is clear that our faculty have always been responsive during such tragedies: After the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in 2018, faculty participation in CETL’s Active Shooter presentation quadrupled, and faculty led action to install interior classroom door locks. Thank you for all you have done and continue to do: you make all of the difference.

Acknowledging the Moment with Students

In In the Eye of the Storm: Students' Perceptions of Helpful Faculty Actions Following a Collective Tragedy, Huston and DiPetro (2017) collected student responses to when faculty did or did not address a tragedy likely to affect students. While they argued that any tragedy can affect students, factors like proximity, magnitude, and direct impact are key. As OU is a short drive from Oxford High School, the impact is key.

Overall, it is important to do something, even if it is short and simple. An excerpt from Implications (p. 13):

In all these cases, our results indicate that from the students’ perspective, it is best to do something. Students often complained when faculty did not mention the attacks at all, and they expressed gratitude when faculty acknowledged that something awful had occurred. Beyond acknowledging a tragic event, faculty would be well-advised to take the extra step of recognizing that students are distressed and to show some extra support, such as offering to grant extensions for students who request them. It is perhaps a surprising relief to learn that an instructor’s response need not be complicated, time-intensive, or even personalized. Students are likely to appreciate responses that require relatively little effort, such as taking a minute of silence or offering to review material later in the course, so faculty should not feel pressed into redesigning their course. Faculty responses that required high levels of effort were also viewed as helpful, so those who wish to use the lens of their discipline to examine the events surrounding a tragedy are encouraged to do so.

The practical guide When Tragedy Occurs in the Campus Community: Advice for Faculty and Staff offers an understanding of reactions to expect and what we can say and do support students.

Emergency Preparedness and Active Shooter Faculty Resources

The OUPD's Active Shooter page provides a video and information on what to do in such instances, including preventative measures. Additionally, CETL’s recommended OU syllabus template includes a section Emergency Preparedness, including Active Shooter incidents:

Emergency Preparedness

In the event of an emergency arising on campus, the Oakland University Police Department (OUPD) will notify the campus community via the emergency notification system. The professor of your class is not responsible for your personal safety, so therefore it is the responsibility of each student to understand the evacuation and “lockdown” guidelines to follow when an emergency is declared. These simple steps are a good place to start:

  • OU uses an emergency notification system through text, email, and landline. These notifications include campus closures, evacuations, lockdowns and other emergencies. Register for these notifications at
  • Based on the class cellphone policy, ensure that one cellphone is on in order to receive and share emergency notifications with the professor in class.
  • If an emergency arises on campus, call the OUPD at (248) 370-3331. Save this number in your phone, and put it in an easy-to-find spot in your contacts.
  • Review protocol for evacuation, lockdown, and other emergencies via the classroom’s red books (hanging on the wall) and
  • Review with the professor and class what to do in an emergency (evacuation, lockdown, snow emergency).

Violence/Active Shooter: If an active shooter is in the vicinity, call the OUPD at (248) 370-3331 or 911 when it is safe to do so and provide information, including the location and number of shooter(s), description of shooter(s), weapons used and number of potential victims. Consider your options: Run, Hide, or Fight.

It is a good time to remind students to sign up to receive emergency notifications

Preparatory actions like this can help us feel a sense of control and security. Of course, we know these actions do not solve the core issues. Remind students that they can receive free counseling from OU's Counseling Center.

Written by Christina Moore, Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Oakland University. Others may share and adapt under Creative Commons License CC BY-NCView all CETL Weekly Teaching Tips