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Will Styler

Associate Teaching Professor of Linguistics at UC San Diego

Director of UCSD's Computational Social Science Program

Supporting Students through Extraordinary Circumstances and Trauma

Will Styler

Updated November 28th, 2023

In this document, I’ll lay out a number of concrete actions you can take when one of your students (at any level) is going through extraordinary, traumatic, and/or legal difficulties. This is based partly on my own experiences navigating trauma as a student, partly on best practices for trauma-informed pedagogy, and partly in consultation with my wife, Jessica Styler, a trauma-focused Licensed Clinical Social Worker.

General Practices

When a traumatic event occurs…

After the trauma is ‘over’

Why this matters

Some academics view this kind of thing as ‘not my job’ or outside our scope of practice. This is true in that it is not your job to be your student’s primary emotional or psychological support, nor to be the person who ‘gets them through this’. However, providing effective academic and interpersonal support to students in extraordinary or traumatic situations can be life changing for those students.

I know this because I am one of those students. In all sincerity, I am where I am because I had advisors and mentors who stepped up and supported me during the darkest days of my own trauma in graduate school. Without the academic guidance, flexibility, support, and simple human compassion which they offered instinctively and without hesitation, I could easily have fallen out of the Ph.D program, may have fallen off my path altogether, may not have survived, and absolutely would not be in the position I am in.

I hope desperately that you never need any of this information, but in the event that something like this does happen to you or one of your students, I hope you’ll be ready, and be an important ‘protective factor’ and element of the support system which helps to see them through it all.