Supporting Students Experiencing Non-Academic Challenges

It can be quite difficult for students to share personal information with faculty.  Many student challenges are highly stigmatized, and students may feel embarrassed or ashamed of what they are experiencing.  They might also be concerned about what other people will think of them, how other people will react, and potential negative consequences of disclosure. Thus, how you react matters.  When students receive positive and supportive reactions, they are more likely to continue reaching out for help.  But when students receive negative or dismissive reactions, they may shut down and stop reaching out for help at all.

How to Respond Supportively and Empathetically

The most helpful thing you can do for students who disclose personal challenges is listen in an attentive, non-judgmental way.  They need to feel like you care about what they are going through and that you are willing to help in any way you can.  Providing information, options, and referrals can be extremely helpful, but understand that it is important for students to make their own decisions about what to do next.  It is also important to normalize the experience and give students hope.  To guide you through this process, here are some helpful things you can say to students when they disclose:

  • I’m glad you told me what’s going on.  I know it wasn’t easy to come here and talk to me, and I want you to know that I am happy to listen and support you in whatever way I can.
  • I know it can be hard to talk about these things, and I’m really glad you trusted me enough to talk to me.  What can I do to help you?
  • I am happy to help in any way I can.  What would be most useful to you right now?
  • I want you to know that you are not alone.  A lot of students face similar challenges, and the  university has a number of resources in place to help students who are going through the same thing.