Helping Students Cope with War
A Guide for Faculty and Staff
Members of the UCSC community may be having different
reactions to the war in Iraq and to possible terrorist threats--common reactions
include helplessness and fear. However, people react and cope in different ways to
war and other traumas, depending on the individual's natural temperament, social
support, prior life experiences, and coping skills. Even if students do not express
any verbal concern, they may be having strong internal reactions. As faculty and
staff who deal with students on a day-to-day basis, you may encounter students in
need of assistance. Being able to identify students in need of assistance, knowing
how to intervene and refer to appropriate resources will help you to work more effectively
with UCSC students.
- Preoccupation with terrorist incidents and war
- Watching the media frequently
- Increased reactivity to small issues and events
- Increased moodiness and anxiety
- Changes in sleeping and eating patterns
- Strained relationships with loved ones--either
increased isolation or irritability
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs
- Increased hostility toward or fear of foreigners
What concerned faculty and staff can do to help:
- Listen. Let students share their thoughts
and feelings with you; encourage them to also talk to others in their support
system (e.g., family and friends).
- Strong Reactions. Discussing topics
relevant to the current situation may evoke strong reactions in some students
(even if they do not express this aloud). Try to be sensitive about how you
introduce such topics, and understand if students need to take a break during
class. You might also suggest that students limit their intake of information
and media about the war.
- Location. Students whose families live
far from Santa Cruz, and those from major metropolitan areas, may have particularly
strong reactions. Because they are far from their support systems, they may
need to rely more extensively on the UCSC community for support during these
- Routine. Encourage students to continue
with their usual routine as much as possible (e.g., keep up with assignments,
classes, and other activities). However, some students may need a short break,
and it may not be possible for them to keep up their usual pace.
- Hostility. If students express hostility
toward individuals from specific countries (e.g., Arab countries), help them
to distinguish between the country's leaders and the innocent population.
Increased divisiveness in our own country will not ultimately help students
- Past Experiences. Individuals may be
responding to the current situation in the context of their own past experiences,
including past trauma. What may seem like an unreasonable response to an outsider
may be perfectly understandable in the context of that person's life.
- Referral. If a student's reactions seem
particularly strong or if the reactions continue over time, make a referral to a
professional (see Resources).
How to approach a student:
- Talk to the student in private when both of
you have time and are not rushed or preoccupied.
- Give the student your undivided attention.
It is possible that just a few minutes of effective listening on your part
may be enough to help the student feel comfortable about what to do next.
- If you have initiated the contact, express
your concern in behavioral, nonjudgmental terms (e.g. "I've noticed you've
been absent from class lately and I'm concerned," rather than "Where
have you been lately? Goofing off again?")
- Listen to thoughts and feelings in a sensitive,
non-threatening way. Communicate understanding by repeating back the gist
of what the student has told you. Try to include both the content and feelings
("It sounds like what's happening with the war is making you feel scared.")
Let the student talk. Avoid judging, evaluating, and criticizing unless the
student specifically asks for your opinion. Such behavior is apt to close
the student off from you and from getting the help needed. It is important
to respect the student's value system, even if you don't agree with it.
- Work with the student to clarify the costs
and benefits of each option for handling the problems from the student's point
- Some people accept a referral for professional
help more easily than others. It is usually best to be frank with a student
about the limits of your ability to assist them--limits of time, energy, training,
and objectivity. It is often reassuring to a student to hear that you respect
their willingness to talk to you and that you want to support them in getting
the assistance they need.
- Confused students may be comforted to know
that they don't necessarily have to know what's wrong before they ask for
help. Assure them that seeking help doesn't necessarily mean that they have
serious problems. Many college students make use of counseling services for
various reasons, including academic difficulties, relationship issues, depression
- UCSC Counseling & Psychological Services
(CPS) provides free, professional and confidential counseling for registered
UCSC students. Students can access our Appointment Services: Monday ñ Friday 10am-12pm
and 2pm ñ 4pm by calling 831-459-2628 or by walking into our central office at Cowell
Student Health Center. For more information about CPS: http://www2.ucsc.edu/counsel/
When the student accesses CPS Appointment Services,
the student will speak briefly with a Psychologist who will then direct the student
to the most appropriate resources (e.g., individual therapy, group therapy, Stress
Clinic, off-campus referral). During the next few weeks, CPS will also be facilitating
groups specifically for students to talk about the war in Iraq.
Faculty and staff may also contact the Counseling
Center (459-2628) throughout the year for consultation about a student or mental
- Resources for Staff and Faculty. Stressors
and trauma don't just affect students--staff and faculty can also be affected. UCSC
Counseling & Psychological Services is available for a one-time consultation
for staff and faculty. Staff and faculty can also contact the UCSC Employee Assistance
Program (866-808-6205) or access mental health benefits through your medical insurance.
- The following resources also provide relevant information:
American Psychological Association:
National Mental Health Association: