Addressing Disruptive Social and Political Events
Because a Stanford education includes preparing for a life of active citizenship, collectively witnessed or experienced events, such as acts of terrorism, divisive political events, mass protests, or campus-wide controversies, can particularly impact student learning and well-being. This page offers recommendations for acknowledging the potential impact of such events and helping students navigate possible uncertainty.
ACT: Anticipate, Create space, and Tie to course learning
The ACT framework provides a structured way to support students across disciplines. The following recommendations are just starting points for thinking about supporting students through times of uncertainty. See "ACT to sustain learning through current events" for more ideas and recommended strategies.
It is helpful to prepare for potential disruptions before they occur and to also acknowledge and express a commitment to supporting students as events happen.
- Regularly acknowledge during class and in written communications events that are important to students' identities, impact their safety and security, or call them to action.
- Regularly acknowledge that students might be struggling to focus on their work, that this is understandable, and that you want to help them succeed in your course.
- Build flexibility into your course design by adopting course policies such as:
- including options to revise and resubmit
- dropping the lowest grade on some assignments
- adding review sessions
- providing alternative ways for students to complete work
- Acknowledge and offer support to Teaching or Course Assistants (TAs or CAs)
- Prioritize your own well-being and seek support when needed
Create space in your course for students to process their reactions to the event.
- Build in optional and ungraded opportunities for students to free-write or journal on what they are thinking and feeling around the event, and holistically assess their well-being.
- Dedicate some of your virtual office hours, or schedule an additional one, for discussion of the event, and make that theme explicit if you are comfortable doing so and feel equipped to have these conversations.
- Familiarize yourself with signs of student distress and steps you can take to help. If you don’t hear from students, contact Stanford staff who will follow up.
- Provide students with helpful resources about well-being, community centers, and units offering student support.
Create space for class discussion
Consider these ideas if you would like to create space for a class discussion.
- Introduce students to Stanford SPARQ’s LARA method, or assign the Are You Ready to Talk? Toolkit, and allow them to practice with each other on lower-stakes topics.
- Emphasize that the class discussions will not be recorded and remind students that they are not permitted to record class sessions.
Tie to course learning
If possible, connect events to course learning, whether through course topics, skills students are learning, or habits of thinking they are cultivating.
- Use the event as an example or case study, for example, of the rise of extremist groups or the effects of climate change.
- Connect course content to surrounding issues made prominent by the event, as you feel disciplinarily and personally equipped to do so; for example, a recent history of geopolitics or methods and contestation of scientific claims.
- Connect skills students are learning in your course with skills relevant to navigating the event, such as creating predictive models or drafting compelling narratives.
- Connect habits of mind or affect students are developing in your course with those relevant to the event, such as developing empathy or seeking evidence for claims.
- See ACT to sustain learning through current events for more ideas and recommended strategies
- See Responding to Student Deaths for recommendations for supporting students through grief and mourning