Supporting Students & Practicing Self-Care

As I came into the office Wednesday morning I was uneasy.

Despite who I supported during the presidential election, in a few short hours I realized how important it was for me to show up for the day and have conversations with my partner, co-workers, colleagues in the student affairs and higher ed field, and my family to process and come together. I’m fortunate to have the space to hold these delicate conversations.

According to news reports, it was one of the most divided elections in history. Listening to these news updates of a country divided immediately made me anxious about the day: I felt everything was out of my control. I could only imagine how my student affairs friends felt in wondering how they were going to show up for the day to support students: students who were happy, sad, exhilarated, defeated, and all sorts of emotions in between.

Mallory Bower’s blog post Sit With Me highlights the fact that as humans we need social interactions, and we need each other during times of conflict, grief, and misunderstanding. Mallory explains,

“Choosing to stay alone through grief can sometimes prolong it. People need people – especially during times when we are unable to fully care for ourselves, or to see hope when things seem hopeless.”

When I’m struggling to understand people’s emotions, I often resort back to my college student personnel graduate school notes and literature. One concept that often provides me hope is around conflict. I continually remember in practice and in literature that after conflict comes deep, personal transformations. And although this is large conflict involving millions of people in our country, reminding myself of that small piece gives me hope that one day we can make this divide less significant.

One of our Blog Contributors, Amanda Koslow, reminded me that if we’re unsure of what to do, about how to speak about the election with others, it’s okay. We don’t have to have it figured out completely. She said,

“I don’t think anyone expects us to have our thoughts and feelings sorted out. It will take time. I don’t think it’s realistic for us to know what to do yet. There’s a lot to process.”

It’s important to remind our students whether they feel defeated or if they feel exhilarated, we need to highlight how to respect both sides and emotions to create spaces for understanding. We need to remind all students that their voice is needed to continue these conversations.

Supporting All Students

Emotions are very real and very raw… on both sides. These emotions have been manifested from personal experiences that stem from acts of violence, vandalism, and hate crimes… on both sides. Many professionals have a hard time supporting all students due to the controversial and sensitive topics that were brought up during the campaigns.

For example, sexual violence was highlighted throughout candidates campaigns in some way, shape or form. For sexual assault survivors listening, these stories are often triggering; allowing emotions and flashbacks of traumatic events to resurface and often forcing them to re-live their experiences. Whatever the truth may be surrounding allegations during the campaigns, those conversations and stories provide no comfort for survivors.

For this reason and for other controversial issues that arose, it’s important to have an honest conversation with professionals in understanding where people feeling comfortable talking about the repercussions of the election with students. We need to take this time to understand how to support both staff and students to not make them feel further alienated due to their vote in this election – whether they voted for Trump, Hillary, or another candidate.

Sharing Stories & Listening

Adding and sharing your voice regarding the election, when ready, to fellow colleagues and students is important. With stories we’re able to humanize experiences and understand how to create understanding between groups of people on campus and in our communities.

If you can’t express your own story, what are ways that you can show support to your students and colleagues during this time?

Ed Cabellon‘s blog post Disconnect helps answer this question. People who hold privileged identities need to further consider how people with marginalized identities may be feeling post election,

“…For many in our country, this will be distinctly harder because of their race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc. If you find yourself saying a few days after the election that ‘we all just need to move on’, consider how fortunate you are. Imagine your entire life being treated as a second-class or no-class citizen because of who you are. The disconnect from empathy for fellow Americans is deeply troubling.”

While adrenaline continues to pump on campuses across the country because of this disconnect, it’s important we do our best to promote civil environments. Part of our work in student affairs includes facilitating and building bridges, so people feel a sense of togetherness as we rebuild a divided country. Now, more than ever, it’s on us to take the time to listen, particularly to those who feel alienated in their opinion or story, ensuring they feel heard and called into the post-election conversation.

Listening is the number one thing we can do for our students who may need to process a mixture of emotions. Truly listening means giving our full awareness, giving undivided attention to the person(s) in front of you: with listening, we’re not thinking of how we’re going to respond, react, or how our opinion of the election is right or better than others.

As the Presence team takes time to listen and create a space of more understanding, we encourage you to do the same.

How are you or your department promoting civility in discussing various opinions?

What organized events have you seen in response to the election? Positive/negative?

How will you be defining and providing safe spaces for students to share their stories around the election?

Tweet us at @checkimhere & @kayleyrobsham to continue the conversation. Thank you for reading!

Kayley Robsham

About the author: Kayley Robsham is the former Community Engagement Manager at Presence, the complete student engagement platform. Learn how we can help get your students involved.

Check I'm Here is now Presence. Learn more about this change in our blog post here.