Responding to Student Stress

I am so relieved to hear that Cornell and Ithaca police have fully investigated the recent security threats to our community and have assured us that campus is safe for us to resume normal activities. How awful it felt to be on campus during this strange time, or to worry, from a distance, about friends and colleagues who were. 

I wish that we did not have to experience such a cruel afternoon yesterday and urge you to take time today doing something that brings you joy and enables you to relax your bodies and minds. Some of us may be able to march forward with projects and obligations; others may need some time to recover from yet another unsettling disruption amidst and on top of this string of uniquely challenging semesters.

Please think about the ways in which you might support your FWS students today -- perhaps by excusing absences, extending deadlines, or giving students time during class to talk about yesterday's events or to do coursework independently or in small groups. 

Campus-wide trauma-informed pedagogical responses like these, together with our compassion and flexibility can help lift students up and make it possible for them to successfully rebound from strenuous events like what we experienced yesterday.

Consider sharing with students, in an email or Canvas post: 

If you feel that any of your students need additional support, please read for guidance the following mildly edited repost from September 28, 2020 in which my colleague, FWS Director David Faulkner, offered advice on how to respond to students of concern.

Tracy Hamler Carrick

Responding to Students of Concern (repost from 9.28.20)

Under normal conditions, FWS instructors often are in the best position to notice and respond to the signs of a student in distress: spotty attendance, subdued or evasive affect, obvious sleep deprivation, a sharp decline in the quality of work or contribution. Students are a little more likely to open up to an instructor who knows their name and sees them as an individual in a small, intimate seminar.

Pandemic conditions multiply the stressors; the online environment makes these signs harder to detect—Zoom flattens our intersubjectivity—and makes campus resources harder to access. In person, masks and distancing have similar effects.

There are no easy solutions, but here are a few starting points:

  1. Recognize that you are not alone, any more than is the student. None of us is obligated or even qualified to solve all students’ problems.  We know that it is sometimes uncertain whom to contact. The answer is, anyone. Reach out to anyone for help: your adviser or course leader, your department chair, a member of the Knight Institute faculty. There are no inappropriate moves here. Follow this link to The Indispensable Reference for Teachers of First-Year Writing Seminars where we offer some protocols and procedures to follow if you notice a student who seems to be in trouble: Students of Concern: Protocols and Procedures.
  2. Contact Advising Deans sooner rather than later if a student continues to miss class sessions and deadlines. Advising deans can only direct students to support services and/or provide guidance about enrollment if they know what is going on. Keep the University drop deadline in mind. Students can drop courses up until October 21, 2021 to drop courses without a W appearing on their transcripts.
  3. Reaching out regularly to students need not be either intrusive or overly time-consuming, and it’s just good pedagogy in online teaching. A quick e-mail check-in or a 10-minute Zoom meeting, on a personal rather than teacherly note, can provide insight to you and a lifeline for a student.
  4. If these invitations are refused or you sense deeper issues at stake, you will always find a sensible, reliable first resource in contacting the advising/student services office in the student’s college. If they are struggling in your seminar, they are likely struggling elsewhere (in larger, more impersonal classes), and it remains the case that you will have been the first to notice. The advising office is best positioned to see the larger picture and help the student holistically, with both academic and emotional support. You will find the student’s college listed in your course roster; the contact information for student services in each college can be found here: Students of Concern: College Contacts.  
  5. You should also submit a confidential Student of Concern/Early Intervention Report. You can access this form from your Canvas Dashboard by selecting the ? at the bottom of the left bar menu.  When the "Help" pop-up window appears, select "Students of Concern" at the bottom of the menu. 
  6. Cornell Health has developed several online resources for instructors:

As always, please do not hesitate to reach out to me, David Faulkner, at, or to any member of the Knight Institute faculty.

David Faulkner


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