Supporting Students in Distress: A Guide for Faculty
October 4, 2013
We all know well the pleasures of getting to know our students in and out of our classrooms. We see them on an almost daily basis and engage in conversations that are often amongst the most consequential of their lives. We also know that many of our students struggle from time to time, for family, emotional, financial, and medical reasons; they share this information with us, ask for our guidance, and sometimes seek help from us that is beyond what we can reasonably provide. Although the College has a wealth of assistance to offer students, faculty members may be unsure how to refer students to appropriate resources and may not be aware of who on campus is ready to help both students and faculty navigate some of these difficult situations.
With this in mind, some faculty members have worked with members of the Division of Student Life to produce this concise guide to working with students in distress. The goal of this guide is: to provide a quick overview of the range of issues that may come up in students’ lives; to describe some signs that you might see in the behavior of your students that are clues to the presence of these various problems; and to give you some practical guidance in taking the first steps to address problems. No one will expect you alone to solve the complex problems that keep some of our students from achieving their educational goals at Wellesley, but we all can work together with colleagues across campus to address these problems effectively. In producing this guide, our hope is to help you help students, so that we can all remain engaged in the challenging academic work that is what brings us together.
Please take a few moments to familiarize yourself with the contents of this guide, and keep it handy for easy referral as the year proceeds. And if you have any questions or suggestions, please do not hesitate to let me know.
Thank you for your care of our students,
Overview of Guide
Wellesley College promotes a challenging learning environment in which students are encouraged to think critically and apply themselves to reach their highest potential. This challenging environment can provide opportunities for positive growth and also feel stressful at times for students. Wellesley’s close-knit community affords faculty and students the opportunity to work closely together and develop influential and important relationships. Because of this, faculty may be among the first aware when a student is struggling either personally or academically, either through observations of changes in a student’s behavior or because a student chooses to disclose personal problems. As faculty are in a unique position to notice and assist students in the early stages of situational or other emotional distress, the Wellesley College Division of Student Life, in consultation with faculty from several academic departments, has created this guide to assist faculty in recognizing and responding to students in distress. This guide outlines the nature of the “stress-to-distress” continuum, indicators of student distress, pathways for supporting students, and available on-campus referral resources. The goal of this guide is to help faculty become more knowledgeable in dealing with students in distress and to become more informed and effective responders. Specifically, it identifies signs of distress and outlines faculty options for responding to students who are struggling. It also provides contact information for the many resources on campus for supporting student wellbeing.
An appendix is available providing further information regarding many behavioral and emotional concerns that faculty might observe from students. The appendix includes information about and tips for responding to general concerns.
Quick Reference Guide: Responding to a Student in Distress
If the student:
- Seems markedly different in demeanor and attitude,
- Is demonstrating a decline in academic performance,
- Is not showing up to class or is habitually late,
- And/or is unresponsive or unreceptive to your efforts to help,
- AND your concerns about the above behaviors are NOT urgent:
Contact the student’s Class Dean by email or phone at 781.283.2325. If the student’s particular Class Dean is not available, another Dean will talk to you. The Class Dean’s office is open weekdays from 8:30-4:30.
Class Deans: Susan Cohen, John O’Keefe, Joy Playter, Jennifer Stephan, Lori Tenser.
You may also contact the Counseling Service at 781.283.2839 for a consultation or refer the student directly to Counseling. The Counseling Service is open weekdays from 8:30-4:30.
If the student:
- Is noticeably withdrawn, upset or disengaged in class,
- Tells you in person, via email or by phone that she is having a really hard time, is stressed out and doesn’t know what she is going to do,
- And/or comes to your office hours in tears or visibly distraught,
- AND you think she needs attention and support before the end of the day (or night):
During regular business hours: Contact the Class Dean (781.283.2325) or call the Counseling Service (781.283.2839). Do not rely on email.
On evenings or weekends: Call Counseling Service after hours phone support (781.283.2839) or Campus Police (781.283.5555). Campus Police (or the counselor on-call) can arrange for the student to be checked on.
If the student:
- Talks or writes about imminently hurting herself or others,
- Is acting or speaking irrationally,
- Appears to be unreasonably angry,
- And/or makes an overt threat towards you or others:
Stay with the student and call Campus Police immediately at 781.283.5555. Campus Police will respond 24/7 and will inform the Counseling Service when appropriate.