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Disasters Happen

Super Storm Sandy Approaching The East Coast on October 29, 2012; Image courtesy of NASA/NOAA National Hurricane Center

I was at a conference in Seattle last week when I began to understand the enormity of  Super Storm Sandy’s potential devastation.  Colleagues from institutions in Sandy’s path were leaving the conference early in hopes of getting home in time to prepare for the storm or to evacuate family members.

Since Illinois only experienced the outer fringes of Sandy, we may mistakenly believe we avoided the brunt of the storm.  Yes, our mainframe connection to New York caused some slowing down of the network but we didn’t lose power or have our homes washed away by flooding.  However, the impact of the storm may actually be felt in our classrooms.

Don’t be surprised if some of your students have difficulty focusing on their academic work due to Super Storm Sandy.

Students may know someone–a friend or family member–struggling to recover from Sandy’s fury.  Even if all of their loved ones are safe or they did not know anyone in Sandy’s path, students may be coping with unfamiliar emotions and may not know how to process them in a positive manner.

The Mental Health Association has provided a list of some common responses to disaster and its consequences (opens a PDF):

• Disbelief and shock

• Fear and anxiety about the future

• Disorientation; difficulty making decisions or concentrating

• Inability to focus on schoolwork and extracurricular activities

• Apathy and emotional numbing

• Irritability and anger

• Extreme mood swings

• Sadness and depression

• Feelings of powerlessness

• Extreme changes in eating patterns; loss of appetite or overeating

• Crying for “no apparent reason”

• Headaches and stomach problems

• Difficulty sleeping

• Excessive use of alcohol and drugs

The Mental Health Association points out that everyone experiences stress differently and that we should be careful not to compare one student’s reaction against another student’s reaction.

As students begin to resume their daily routine, the reaction to Sandy will diminish.  However, you may want to remind your students that ISU’s Counseling Services is available to help them cope with Sandy.

CTLT Coordinator, Faculty Development, Julie-Ann McFann, Ph.D.

As instructors, we also need to be flexible and recognize that sometimes “disasters happen” for our students.