Faculty and Staff
As a university professional at George Mason University, you influence your students academically and personally. The support you provide your students can make all the difference for your students’ academic success.
When you are concerned about a student
Look for potential signs of a student in distress, including:
- An abrupt or sudden drop in attendance, or an unusual pattern of coming to class late or leaving early
- Decline in classroom participation/quality of work
- Failure to turn in assignments
- Signs of bruising or other injuries
- Reasons for absences that include multiple hospital or doctor visits
Starting the conversation
Approach the student – show that you are supportive and can be trusted. Ask you student if something is wrong – most students appreciate your concern and may have been hoping someone notices their distress, but may be afraid to ask for help. Some examples of ways to start the conversations include:
Broach the topic with permission. Ex:
- “I noticed that…I wonder if we could take about…”
- “Would it be okay if we talked about…? What concerns do you have about…?”
A few more ways to start the conversation…
- “I hope you don’t mind my asking, but is there something you’d like to talk to be about? I’ve noticed some changes in your performance/behavior/appearance lately.”
- “I have noticed that you’ve missed the last _____ classes, which is unusual for you. If there is something going on that you’d like to talk about, I’m here.”
- Provide room for disagreement: “I may be wrong, but…”
What to Expect
Students in distress may fear that needing help will reflect poorly on them, or change your opinion of them. Students often worry that everyone will know if they seek help, and that it might become a part of their university record. Embarrassment, shame and fear make it difficult to discuss the situation and make it hard to ask for help.
Students may also experience a loss of sense of control if they do not feel they are allowed to make their own choices about what to share or when. If a student has shared information with you out of necessity (e.g. in requesting an extension on missed coursework) this may be especially true.
Addressing the students’ needs
Suggest that there may be several options regarding the problem. Ex: “Others have found a couple of different things to be helpful in situations like this. Would you be wiling to talk about these strategies?”
When talking about other services, offer choices. This may include talking with someone at SSAC or CAPS, attending groups like AA, getting individual/group counseling to talking to SHS.
Be prepared with referrals.
After providing a range of suggestions, ask for the student’s opinion of these options: “What do you think? Which of these do you believe might be most helpful to you?”
Emphasize personal control: “Whatever you decide, it is ultimately up to you.”
Affirm the student for speaking honestly with you: “I really appreciate you talking with me.”
Summarize a plan for change: “it sounds like you feel that…specifically you plan to…”
Close positively and with the door open for further conversation: “I’d really like to hear how things are going with you. Would you feel comfortable checking back?” or “Would it be ok if I checked in with you on____?”
When a student confides in you
Be supportive and non-judgmental. If someone discloses an experience with violence or other personal concerns, it demonstrates a tremendous amount of trust in you. It is essential that you honor that trust and support this personal in any way you feel comfortable. Try one of the following statements:
- “I’m sorry this happened to you.”
- “You are not alone – there is help.”
- “You are very courageous for sharing this with me. Thank you.”
- “Do you feel safe?”
Avoid asking, “Why?” – it can appear judgmental.
Refer your student to SSAC and/or some other safe place. SSAC can help students locate available resources – this is free and confidential.
Following up personally with students is the most effective way to demonstrate your on-going care and willingness to help. Ask how they are doing, what resources they might have used and if they found them helpful.
What do I need to share?
If a student reveals to you that they intend to harm themselves or someone else, that is something you cannot keep confidential. In that case, talk to your supervisor, and contact Counseling and Psychological Services or the Student Support and Advocacy Center. Call 9-1-1 in an emergency.
Counseling and Psychological Services: 703-993-2380
Office of Student Conduct: 703-993-6029
Student Health Services: 703-993-2831
University Police: Non-emergency 703-993-2810 Emergency 911
24-hour Sexual and Intimate Partner Violence Crisis Line: 703-380-1434