by Christina Frasher, Instructional Consultant, Center for Teaching Excellence, Duquesne University; Part-time Faculty, Psychology, Point Park University
When a tragedy strikes that touches so many aspects of our identities, it can be meaningful to students for teachers to model how to make space for the complex emotions that may arise.
On Monday, October 29, 2018, after the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I had my students listen to the last five minutes of WTC 9/11 for String Quartet and pre-recorded voices and strings composed by Steve Reich (learn more). I introduced the activity and shared that we would not begin class with “business as usual.” I explained the background on the piece, that it was composed after 9/11 using interviews and recordings and that the section we would be listening to included the voices of volunteers who, honoring the Jewish tradition of staying with the deceased, stayed with the bodies and sang psalms.
After listening, I invited students to sit in silence for a few minutes and then offered them time to write reflections. I noted that I would not be collecting their writing. We then discussed any reactions or thoughts they wanted to share. Many students expressed gratitude at having the opportunity to slow down and experience the emotional tone of the music. They also noted that the music related to what they were experiencing and carried deep meaning that they had longed for. Some students shared their personal reactions to the shootings but all reactions and reflections were brief as the students seemed to value the contemplative nature of the activity.
Before we transitioned to the rest of class, I reminded students of support available to them through their university counseling center and invited them to reach out to me as well. At the end of class, some students wanted to share what they had written. Some expressed appreciation for the support I had offered. Just as not all students will perceive a tragic event in the same way, not all instructors will approach teaching after a tragedy in the same way. More resources are available on the Duquesne CTE website.