It has been nearly a month since we lost three of our teachers, colleagues, and friends in a senseless shooting, and it is still difficult to know what to say and what to do. The UNLV community has been through a traumatic event for which we have few guides. And very soon spring semester will start. While it won’t be “business as usual,” we will collectively return to our education, research, and support mission.
There are still several resources available to UNLV staff, faculty, and students. As many of us return to campus, joining those who have never left, it may be helpful to review the six tips that UNLV Strong offers for “coping with grief, anxiety, and trauma.” Two of the tips explicitly require interaction with others: talking to others about the event itself and the emotions it has engendered and helping others or otherwise being productive. Returning to campus, while it may be difficult and even painful for some, presents opportunities to be present for those around us—and for them to be present for us.
Four of the tips, though, require more self-reflection. Balance—specifically in media consumption—can help one maintain a more positive perspective, particularly as algorithms push provocative content rather than calming news and commentary. Honoring one’s feelings, particularly when those on and off campus on that terrible day had such varying experiences, is likewise important. Whatever you are feeling is valid—and that includes feeling nothing at all. And you might be feeling different things at different times. Again, completely valid. Taking care of yourself—particularly by avoiding drugs and alcohol while getting restful sleep and pursuing physical activities—takes time and intention. And the final tip, a reminder that grief is a long process, suggests that while we move ahead, we may carry this with us for longer than we imagine.
For instructors (and I think this carries over to other student support positions) we have been provided advice on finishing the semester that is equally relevant to the start of the new one, particularly since many students have not been back to campus since December 6. They are also useful for how relate to each other as fellow members of the community, no matter what our role. Communicating in empathetic and affirming ways is almost always a good strategy. Whatever function we perform on campus (or off it), we are all human beings who have been through a traumatic event. Remembering that might seem obvious as we sit and contemplate, but it may be obscured in the moment as we move about our day. While positivity is important, clarity and brevity remain hallmarks of good communication, particularly when the recipient (and communicator) may be stressed.
In other words, be nice, but be clear about what you need. As stress can interfere with memory in strange ways, committing things to writing is a good idea, as it lessens the burden of perfect recall. So maybe follow that conversation with an affirming, supportive, and unambiguous email.
Likewise, experts stress the dangers of neglecting one’s own needs to satisfy those of others. It might seem contradictory—after all, if helping others is fulfilling, why not help as much as possible? The answer is that burnout is real, and the needs of a campus with 35,000 or so members are boundless. Everyone needs downtime. That includes you.
The difficult part about “returning” to regular operations (I put that in quotes to honor the hundreds who have been maintaining university functions and working to get the campus ready for teaching to resume) is that some are ready, while others are not. It seems healthy to remember that we all react to trauma in different ways. Now, if this was just a matter of asking those leaning on the side of “just work through it” to be compassionate for those who need more time to process, it might be somewhat less challenging, but the possibly unfortunate fact is that we all will have to adjust to others. That includes making allowances for those, whether they are degree-seeking students or mission-focused staff, who may seem to you to be rushing things. As was pointed out above, their feelings, too, are valid, as are their needs.
Speaking of needs…. Last Saturday, you might have gotten a reminder that our processes are continuing via a REBELPerform email prompting you to complete a self-evaluation or performance evaluation. I have to admit, it was a bit of a surprise, but not an unwelcome one, since it provided an anchor to a process that’s not usually considered therapeutic but is, at least, a milestone. With admin faculty and classified staff annual evaluations moving to this platform, those who will be completing them have some learning to do. Luckily, there are several training sessions available.
I might write my next post about annual evaluations, given that they have historically been a relatively big driver of visitors to the Ombuds Office. Whether it is a supervisor struggling to balance a candid review with kindness or an employee unhappy with an evaluation that believe is unmerited, or someone exploring options for redress, annual evaluation season is usually a busy one. The violence of December 6 complicates the process, to say the least.
I say “might” because doing something other than offering the campus community a measure of support in this space feels (emotionally rather than intellectually) like trying to put the tragedy behind us while some are not ready to move on. Yet the real need for active support during the annual evaluation process sways me towards writing about it, because not meeting that need doesn’t help anyone.
Maybe it’s best to close by saying that, in addition to the many counseling and mental health resources available to the UNLV community, the Ombuds Office remains available to you for a wide spectrum of interpersonal, organizational, and communication issues, whether within groups or as an individual. If you are having an issue and are uncertain where to go, our office is an excellent zero-barrier first stop. There really is no issue too big or too small. You have nothing to lose and quite a bit to gain.
If you would like to talk off-the-record and confidentially about any work- or campus-related concern, please make an appointment with the Ombuds. Our door is always open.
David G. Schwartz