Acknowledge what happened
Simply recognizing such an event is tremendously valuable. You do not need to say a lot if you are not comfortable doing so. And you should not try to act as a therapist or counselor. But acknowledging the event and the difficulty the class may be experiencing is often highly appreciated by students.
For ideas, consider phrases such as:
- "I am saddened (or angered or frustrated) by . . ."
- "I know many of us have been affected by . . ."
- "Recently many on our campus have been shaken by . . ."
- "It is important for all of us to support one another at these difficult times."
- Some instructors also consider holding a moment of silence for reflection.
Keep in mind that in some cases, different students may have very different reactions to the same event, particularly political events. In such cases, acknowledging that people are suffering while avoiding blame or implying everyone should have the same reaction may be useful.
It is also helpful to let your class know about resources that exist to help them during stressful times. In particular, consider reminding students of the availability of Penn's Student Counseling (215.898.7021), the Office of the Chaplain (215.898.8456) and the Reach A Peer RAP line (Reach a Peer, 215.573.2727 (2RAP)) or Penn Benjamins. You can also consult with Student Counseling yourself about talking about events with your students.
You can also invite your students to talk about how they want to approach the upsetting issue as a class