The Carter G. Woodson Institute, U.Va.

The Carter G. Woodson Institute

for African-American and African Studies at the University of Virginia

Center for Teaching Excellence: "Responding to Critical Incidents"

Center for Teaching Excellence: "Responding to Critical Incidents"

August 21, 2017

In the wake of violent attacks in Charlottesville from white supremacist organizations on August 11-12, the Center for Teaching Excellence compiled a list of resources to help faculty and instructors address critical inicidents in their classrooms. In support of the Center for Teaching Excellence's response, the Woodson Institute reprints its list of resources below, the original link can be found here.

Responding To Critical Incidents


Following the hateful and violent display of racism, bigotry, white supremacy, and Neo-Nazism that occurred in Charlottesville on August 11-12, we offer the following resources to help instructors address this and other critical incidents in their classrooms. Formal research and UVA students tell us that students want faculty to acknowledge critical incidents in the classroom. If we don’t, students may assume that we do not care about them and/or the issue. A simple acknowledgement can normalize feelings of distress, ease a sense of isolation, and signal that you care. Here are a few things to consider.

  • It is important to acknowledge the violence of August 11-12 and that we are all likely to be upset and affected in different ways. Communicate your care through a gentle tone and manner and by being clear that you condemn the aggression displayed in our city and the University. We encourage you to be specific and name racism, bigotry, white supremacy, and Neo-Nazism while expressing your commitment to the values of diversity, inclusion, and civic discourse.
  • Be honest and humble. You can admit that you are also muddling your way through this and are unsure what to say. Explain why you may not have an in-depth conversation (e.g. “routines such as going to class can be helpful as we process”) and point to resources for students.
  • Indicate your interest for students’ well-being. Tell them that they should feel free to take care of themselves in whatever ways they need to do. Offer to speak with students during office hours, particularly encouraging students whose work may be affected by the incident. Consider offering flexibility regarding assignment deadlines. You might also review student safety guidelines and support offices.

Beyond Acknowledgment

There are many additional ways to support students and turn the incident into a teachable moment. Your strategy will likely depend on factors such as your personality, experience, and comfort level with the issues at stake, as well as class size and subject matter. Possibilities include:

  • Consider inviting your students at the beginning of class to free-write about a prompt such as the following: “How do you make sense of the current events and your emotions in light of your values? Who do you want to reach out to later in the day for more processing and support?” Such reflections allow students to intentionally process the incident and plan to seek support if needed.
  • Depending on students’ inclination and your comfort level, you can devote class time to discussing the incident, also being sure to let students who choose to process less publicly know that they are free to leave and take care of themselves. Consider the resources below as you plan to discuss critical incidents.
  • Explore different philosophical approaches to difficult classroom dialogues. Adopting and communicating to students a particular pedagogical stance can guide your decisions and the conversation.
  • Be proactive. Plan for inclusion. Review your syllabusCreate classroom community. Set ground rules.
  • Tend to your own self-care needs and remember that different members of our community are doing different kinds of emotional labor. Support those who experience a disproportionate strain for supporting students in this challenging time.

The following select resources can help equip you to respond in your classrooms to critical incidents affecting the community:

We would be happy to talk with you about further strategies within the context of your particular teaching setting. Call us at 434-982-2815 or request a confidential consultation online.

The CTE is committed to the values of diversity, inclusion, social justice, and education.