When Disaster Strikes: Promoting Resilience in Impacted Students

Over the past few weeks, millions of people have been impacted by the magnitude of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, with hurricane Jose promising to follow in their wake. Homes, treasured belongings, and lives have been lost, leaving behind destruction, chaos, and much work to be done. The costs, both in life and in property, have been severe and the impact is one that has extended to our colleges and universities.

When exploring the concept of trauma and resilience, response related to natural disasters is an area that may be unfamiliar to many. Due to the sporadic nature of such events, they are presented far less frequently than other forms of trauma that impact our students. In the wake of these recent occurrences, the following tips can be beneficial for supporting students in your communities that have been impacted.

Be aware of impacted students

Spend time identifying those students who come from the areas that have been affected by Harvey or Irma. By understanding which students may be affected, you can be proactive in your outreach. A simple email with campus and local resources can go a long way in demonstrating institutional support and making students aware of resources, both on campus and off.

Know (and share) your resources

Natural disasters not only present a physical and emotional burden to students, but a financial one as well. The U.S. Department of Education Federal Student Aid has committed to providing support to students who have been impacted by recent hurricanes. To assist with the psychological impact , ensure that counseling center staff are available and equipped to work with students who have been affected. This may mean extending counseling center hours, allocating for additional staff, or forging relationships with providers in the community to extend the arm of support for those students and family members who need it. Students can also be pointed in the direction of apps and technology designed to assist with the management of trauma related symptoms.

Allow accommodations

Devise a plan for supporting those students who have been affected. Working with faculty, consider ways in which you can empower impacted students to succeed academically. Previous disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina, have forced institutions of higher education to confront a similar scenario. Accommodations may include allowing students to attend class remotely and being flexible with assignment due dates. Also, recognize that those students who have been affected may be struggling with basic needs such as food and shelter. Consider hosting a food pantry on campus, and working with community landlords or residence halls to create additional shelter, if appropriate.

Create opportunities for help and healing

Even students that have not been directly impacted by hurricanes are likely to be touched by these disasters in some way. Media portrayals, news stories, and social media outlets such as Snapchat and Facebook present a window into the experiences of those who have been impacted and the devastation that has occurred as a result. As such, students may be feeling increased anxiety, empathic sadness, and fear. Providing an opportunity for students at your institution to help in some way can be cathartic, as well as supportive of those who have been directly impacted. Consider organizing a charitable event that will present an opportunity for students, faculty, and staff to regain a sense of empowerment through outreach to others.

Make a statement

Whether you are in an affected area or not, a statement acknowledging the magnitude of these disasters can go a long way. Normalize the emotions that can come from seeing such devastation (even from a distance), and remind students of the importance of self-care and utilizing resources on- or off-campus. Share with your community the ways in which they can get involved, and encourage them to take care of themselves and one another.

For more information on supporting students who have experienced trauma, check out our latest publication.