How to Support a Student
As faculty and staff members, you may find yourself in the position of suspecting that a student has been impacted by sexual assault, relationship abuse or stalking. You may also be faced with responding to a direct disclosure.
These types of experiences can be very traumatic for any individual, including students. They can impact students' ability to eat, sleep and concentrate in class or on their assignments. Over time, trauma can have serious long-term, negative effects on a student's educational experience.
Faculty and staff often are among the first to notice that a student is struggling. However, they may not fully understand what they are seeing or know how to help. In these situations, faculty and staff members can play an important role in helping a student access the support and resources that can help the student begin to heal.
The Three Rs to Remember
When working with students impacted by trauma, remember the three Rs:
In some instances, a student may disclose an assault or other trauma they have experienced either verbally or in writing. When this happens, the student is letting you know that they have made the decision to trust you. This can feel like both an honor and a responsibility. In other instances, a student may not disclose, but you may begin to notice subtle or not so subtle changes in a student's behavior or academics that suggest that something might be wrong. These may occur immediately after the incident or weeks or even months later. They may include:
- Lack of attendance – the student may stop attending class or attend intermittently. This may be caused by depression or irregular sleep patterns brought on by trauma.
- Incomplete or missing tests and assignments – trauma can impede a person's ability to concentrate, making it difficult to study or complete assignments.
- Withdrawal – the student may become noticeably less social, no longer participating in events, conversations and activities as s/he did in the past
- Increased risk taking – in contrast or in combination with being withdrawn, the student may begin to engage in more high risk behaviors such as excessive drinking or self- harm as a means of coping or escape.
Research conducted over the past several decades consistently confirms the therapeutic importance of supportive, non-judgmental responses to disclosures of sexual and relationship violence. When a survivor discloses, the most important thing you can do is listen and show your compassion and concern. Responses like "I am so sorry," "what happened wasn't your fault," and "how can I support you?" help promote survivors' healing and let them know that they are not alone. Survivors report that responses that appear to blame the victim or that attempt to investigate or solve the crime have the negative impact of causing the survivor to shut down and avoid seeking further help or support.
If you suspect that the student may have been impacted by a traumatic experience, but haven't received confirmation through a disclosure, it can be helpful to reach out to the student and simply ask if there is something wrong. Many students don't feel that they can ask for help, especially from faculty members. When approaching a student, let them know that you have noticed that something that concerns you and that you just want to make sure that they are okay, or if not, that they get the help they needs. It's important to let the student know that some disclosures need to be reported to the University, so that it might be best important to keep details vague. If the student would like further assistance, you will help them connect with an office on campus where they can talk confidentially.
- Non-judgmental responses to disclosures
- Show compassion and concern
- Responses to help promote survivors' healing and let them know that they are not alone.
- “I’m sorry this happened. / This shouldn’t have happened to you.”
- "What happened wasn't your fault./ You didn’t do anything to deserve this.”
- "How can I support you?"
- “I believe you. / It took a lot of courage to tell me about this.”
- “You are not alone. / I care about you and am here to listen or help in any way I can.”
- You are not an investigator or fact collector.
- It's important to let the student know that some disclosures need to be reported to the University, so that it might be best important to keep details vague.
Title IX obligates any faculty and staff, except those protected by confidentiality (the Counseling Center or University Pastor) with knowledge of a sexual assault/act of sexual violence involving a student to report that information to the Title IX Coordinator.
Title IX Coordinator
Dr. Jay Prescott
Vice President for Student Affairs, Title IX Coordinator
The Title IX Coordinator is responsible for coordinating GVU’s compliance with Title IX which prohibits sex discrimination, including sexual or relationship violence. The Title IX Coordinator is available to meet with students or others as needed to provide information about options for complaint resolution, to facilitate an effective response to a complaint, and to address the way in which GVU responds to incidents of alleged sexual misconduct and relationship violence.
For additional University policy information, please visit the Title IX website.