As a victim advocate, I’ve had to consider how to continue to provide trauma-informed care and advocacy support to students online.
This is challenging to do from afar, but it is absolutely essential work for making students feel comfortable in online spaces.
Here are my recommendations for providing virtual trauma-informed advocacy support. Making these adjustments will help you give students agency and control at a time when they might feel like they have none.
1. Offer multiple meeting options
To help students you are supporting feel as comfortable as possible, offer them several possible meeting options.
You can offer to chat via phone call, a Teams or Zoom meeting, or email. If your campus has a texting service or you are comfortable texting students with your on-call phone, this can also be a great option.
Giving the student all these virtual choices will give them agency in our pandemic reality. It’s important to give survivors a sense of control over the support measures they access, as they often feel out of control after facing violence.
2. Rework your daily availability
Before the pandemic, it was common for most campus staff to only be available to students during business hours. But, in our new remote world, consider if offering a small number of evening or weekend appointments make sense for you and your students.
This will give students more flexibility in making sure they have space alone to chat privately with you, perhaps after their family members go to sleep or a roommate goes to work.
Being more available in ways that work for your schedule can make it easier for students to connect with you. Of course, consider doing this only if you can flex your work hours in other ways; working 60+ hours a week will not keep you mentally well enough to serve others.
3. Make your space comfortable
Students will feel more comfortable chatting with you if your space looks welcoming online. For example, dim lighting might appear more welcoming than harsh fluorescent over-heads, and hanging a nice picture behind your office space makes a video chat room a little homier.
Adding a tri-fold screen behind your office chair can also make your space look more welcoming. Or, you could add a calming virtual background to your Teams or Zoom meetings.
4. Offer to appear camera… or not
It’s interesting how quickly social norms regarding video conference camera use arose following the pandemic’s start.
To ensure your students feel as comfortable as possible, ask them their camera preference before your meeting begins. You could do this in your email communication before you meet or you can join first with just your microphone turned on and ask their preference.
Some students may be embarrassed about their living space or may just be private and feel hesitant to share it with a stranger. Students who have faced trauma may need extra support or advocacy to ask you for what they need in this area.
5. Update your website
In previous semesters, which were full of one-on-one advocacy initiatives and in-person prevention programming, updating your website probably fell to the end of your to-do list. But, in this time of online work, it’s critical to make sure your website reflects the services your office provides.
As you update your site, make sure it’s accessible to viewers of different abilities and that information about support is easy to find.
For example, it may be helpful for students who are not comfortable accessing on-campus resources to be able to find confidential community resources on your website. To compile your resource list, find community providers of mental health services and victim advocacy support. In most big cities, there are usually at least a few low-cost or free options. If you are in a more rural location, try searching advocacy services with your county’s name.
I also recommend adding photos of advocates and other staff on your webpage so that students can see the friendly faces whom they will engage with.
6. Go to social media
Like websites, social media can be abandoned in our busiest times, especially if your office is short on staff. But social media has recently become even more important for our students who need to connect and find resources.
Make sure you are frequently posting on your social media outlets and engaging with other campus accounts. This will ensure more students see your information and help you build your audience.
If other campus offices have successful social media accounts, reach out to them for a resource share. When you commit to sharing each other’s information, you will engage more students, connecting them to resources they may need.
7. Determine where you will meet students in person
In some cases, it may be necessary to meet students in person. For example, our advocacy team has decided that if a student requests an in-person meeting, an advocate who is comfortable doing so will meet with them on campus in a large enough room to maintain social distance while wearing masks.
It is important to reflect on and plan for what works best for you as everyone’s local policies, individual comfort levels, and campus guidelines are different everywhere.
While our semesters have changed in many ways, one thing we should aim to keep the same is service to students who have faced violence or harassment. By implementing some or all these suggestions, you can continue to provide trauma-informed support to students.
What questions do you still have about trauma-informed advocacy support? Connect with us on Twitter @HelloPresence.