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Instructors can alleviate distress by giving students clear standards for their work and acknowledging that students face challenges outside the classroom as well. Syllabus and course design are two areas where instructors can make an impact.

What some instructors call “life happens” policies can help students deal with small disasters (or occasional poor planning) without those events having a catastrophic effect on students’ grades. Instructors often take into account that students will have to miss class or turn in work late in the normal course of life and allow students to do so without penalty. Consider attendance policies or late work policies that have a no questions asked element for reasonable amounts.

This should not mean your policy says “get things to me when you can.” Such open ended policies are a problem for students and can result in frustration for you and for them. If a student cannot meet what seem like reasonable attendance requirements or regularly miss deadlines, you should contact the student’s advising office.

Instructors can help students normalize seeking help through statements that indicate how college is a challenge, mental illness is very common, and that seeking help will make a difference. Instructors often give contact information for CAPS as well as other resources that students may find helpful.

Annette Lareau, SOCI 001: “Introduction to Sociology”

Penn also has a Counseling and Psychological Services program which offers free confidential help to students. College can be challenging. Here is the link: In addition, there are resident advisers, faculty members living on campus, academic advisers, and undergraduate advisers in each program of study. The Office of the Chaplain is also helpful. Penn seeks to be a caring community.

Jessa Lingel, COMM 243: “Doing Internet Studies”

Several studies suggest that graduate students are at greater risk for mental health issues than those in the general population. This course is meant to be challenging, but it is not my intent to contribute to experiences of stress, depression, or anxiety. Please reach out to me, the Associate Dean of Graduate Studies or the Assistant Dean for Graduate Studies if you find yourself feeling low. I also encourage you to reach out to the different mental health services at Penn, including CAPS and GAPSA. I will make every effort to maintain the confidentiality of the information you share with me, but please be aware that in cases of disclosing experiences of sexual assault, self-injury or intent to injure others, I may be required by the University to report any concerns.

Chris Murphy CIS 350: “Software & Design Engineering”

Your mental health and wellness is of utmost importance to the course instruction staff, if not the University as a whole. All members of the instruction staff will be happy to chat or just to listen if you need someone to talk to, even if it’s not specifically about this course.

If you or someone you know is in distress and urgently needs to speak with someone, please do not hesitate to contact CAPS: 215-898-7021; 3624 Market St. If you are uncomfortable reaching out to CAPS, any member of the instruction staff will be happy to contact them on your behalf.

Thinking about the way the semester works as you develop your syllabus will allow you to help students make good decisions about your class. See the semester calendar which highlights when students can drop or withdraw from a class without penalty. To help students gauge how they are doing, provide them with some graded work well before the drop period (so they have time to discuss their options with an adviser should they run into trouble.) It is also worth remembering that students may have a good bit of work for their other classes in the middle of the semester and at the end.

In many classes, students will encounter material that is upsetting or controversial. This discomfort can provide students an opportunity to grow in their thinking and a chance to talk about deeply held values in a respectful atmosphere. Such conversations can allow students to discover new ways of considering an issue. However, for some students, the discomfort they feel in these situations can be so deep that their learning is inhibited. Instructors can flag controversy or difficult material and they can encourage students to discuss such material thoughtfully and respectfully. They may also encourage students who are aware that certain types of material will be particularly difficult to talk with the instructor ahead of time.

Annette Lareau, SOCI 004: “Sociology of the Family”

In this class we will be discussing subject matter that some students may consider controversial. Some students may find some of the readings and/or comments in class challenging. Our purpose in this class is to explore this subject matter deeply and consider multiple perspectives and arguments. Students are expected to listen to one another (and the instructor) respectfully, but of course are free to disagree with views expressed, as long as they do so respectfully.

Donovan O. Schaefer, RELS 102: “Sacred Stuff: Religious Bodies, Places, and Objects”

This class is going to challenge you with difficult readings and concepts. Some of these readings may even provoke discomfort, which I encourage you to explore as best you can. I respect your willingness to tax yourself intellectually, and to allow yourself to be frustrated and to take risks with this material. If you find some of the material distressing, let me know. I’m happy to flag up any content you may find upsetting in advance or to discuss any issues you might be having in office hours.