What should I do first?
First, pause and take a breath. What you just saw happen or heard about can be traumatic and triggering. You may want to react quickly but that often is not what is most effective. It is important to first reflect on the incident or crisis and find a way to meaningfully engage and respond in a way that promotes safety and healing, particularly for the community or communities that are targeted and harmed by the incident.
Consider a brief mindfulness exercise, such as a selection from the Mindfulness Meditation Podcast Series from the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health.
What are SMPH and university leaders doing?
It is common to wonder what school or university leaders are doing when an incident or crisis occurs. Several processes are in place to help inform institutional responses.
Keep in mind
- School and university leaders are informed of incidents promptly.
- When an incident occurs, work begins immediately to understand what took place and how to respond appropriately. Depending on a scenario, complex processes or investigations may be required. These steps are critical and take time to conduct. Such work precedes and informs any institutional messages. The university will only share information that is verified and released by other agencies.
- The highest priority of campus and school leaders and (for incidents involving police response) university or municipal law enforcement is to support the safety of impacted individuals, assess the situation and coordinate with one another.
Often, there is desire for school or university leaders to release a statement following an incident. Below are some important details regarding institutional statements.
- Statements from UW–Madison are not intended to be “breaking news.” Leadership will not and should not respond in haste. They will continue to investigate to ensure they are responding accurately.
- You may hear about a crisis or incident from news media rather than an institutional message or statement. Campus statements focus on sharing information about the university’s response, which can develop over time as additional facts become known. In a large organization, many individuals, and sometimes partnering agencies, will need to review a statement to ensure accuracy.
- Only the Chancellor or their direct designee can make institutional statements. Generally, units of the university such as schools, colleges, departments or divisions should not make separate statements on disturbing issues that affect our campus community, in particular on external channels like social media, unless they are reviewed and approved in advance by University Communications. SMPH will be more involved and may potentially make a statement if SMPH students, staff or faculty are directly involved.
- Multiple statements can be unhelpful, sparking confusion if they are contradictory. Duplicative statements can become a “check the box” performative action with limited value. It is best to focus on direct interpersonal support for members of impacted communities.
What can I do?
It is most valuable in a crisis or incident to devote your time and energy to thinking about your sphere of influence, meaning the scope of your professional and personal role. Below are some ideas for how to respond.
Your sphere of influence:
- Focus on what you can influence and what you can impact in the scope of your role at SMPH.
- Reach out to individuals (students, staff, and faculty) in your own personal and professional circles who may feel impacted. Ask what they need and how best you can support them. If someone is struggling after the incident, hearing from someone they know personally with a meaningful message will be of tangible aid. Ask them about any specific support needs and provide resources. It is through our one-on-one conversations and support that we can continue to build community.
- Reinforce to students, staff, and faculty that any incident can and should be reported. This sets a positive culture that shows that instances of racism, stereotyping, bias, or hate are not acceptable. Learn how to report concerns about student mistreatment and professional conduct. Incidents involving bias or hate can be reported to the UW–Madison Dean of Students Office.
Ideas for leaders:
- Reach out to members of your team who may feel impacted to offer support and resources.
- Think of ways to create space for conversation about traumatic national and local events, perhaps utilizing internal or external facilitators. It can also be meaningful to bring students and trainees together for discussion about the impact of an event and provide information on mental health resources available on campus. Students can utilize University Health Services and employees can access numerous Emotional Wellbeing Resources for UW–Madison Faculty and Staff.
- If possible, offer for people to take some of the day/afternoon/morning off for self-care.
Other resources for everyone:
- Suggested script for talking with a colleague who is part of impacted community:
- “Hello, [insert name]. After [insert issue] incident, I wanted to check in to see how you were doing. Is there anything I can do to better support you? I am here for you and whatever support you may need.”