As student affairs professionals, we need to understand and prepare for the short-term and longer-term impact of tragedies like the Orlando massacre. This “human engineered” mass shooting has an impact on people that differs in several ways from the effects of large-scale natural disasters or accidents. It is important to draw on the research in public health and emergency preparedness in addition to what we know about student development and learning, as well as systemic and institutionalized oppression. As incidents like Orlando increase (Istanbul’s bombing followed almost immediately), we must also increase our effectiveness in dealing with the aftermath as well as prevention.
…studies reveal that the effects from acts of (human engineered) terrorism on mental health affect a higher percentage of people (than that recorded for natural or accidental disasters) and that the effects are more enduring than the negative psychological outcomes reported in previous studies for natural or accidental disaster…from 18 months to three years. 
Our tendency in student affairs is to “wrap up” incident responses and help students move on with their lives, but quick fixes will not always be successful. We need to ensure that we process and respond to Orlando with a full complement of strategies and actions.
Before we can move forward, we must first assess our own internal responses and external reactions and behaviors. What stage of grief is being manifested in what we do and what we say personally and professionally? What bias do we bring into our reactions?
Are we contributing to the development of a culture of advocacy or adversity on our campuses and within the groups, organizations and associations we share as professional colleagues?
Ask yourself and your administration these essential questions about a culture of advocacy on your campus.
Can those without recognition and agency freely express their views and concerns non-violently, access information and services without impediment, successfully promote their rights and responsibilities, and freely explore options and choices about their present and future without despair?
If not, why not? What are the barriers? How can we remove them?
We must improve institutional diversity and inclusion strategies to ensure that the most vulnerable people on our campuses are not also the most overlooked, under represented, isolated or harassed.
We can benefit from research and scholarship in Public Health as well as student learning and development theories to inform intervention practices and assessment. For example, in public health theory, researchers recommend that interventionists develop a comprehensive working knowledge of the community clusters of identities before disasters occur. Their focus is on those who are most vulnerable in a disaster.
They recommend that interventionists need to know the nature of current infrastructure of services and support (strengths and weaknesses) including communications, transportation, “drop in” locations, etc., as well as the range of qualified behavioral health responders in the area. In short, they recommend a comprehensive community-wide assessment focused on disaster response.
This assessment should include measuring resilience and documenting the anticipated influences of significant psychological impacts on all residents and for special groups within the community.
Campuses must develop cultures of assessment in which “assessment is not an activity, but a state of mind,” according to Dr. Gavin Henning, President of CAS and Past President of ACPA.
The majority of US based colleges and universities do not use a system-wide assessment or benchmarking system to measure diversity and inclusion metrics, such as the Global Diversity and Inclusion Benchmarking Project (GDIB).
Without this type of assessment tool, we cannot say with confidence that we know the “who, what, where, when and how” students and employees are being “othered.” We can advocate for comprehensive assessment. We can provide opportunities to name the problem of “othering” and call for all campus stakeholders to be responsible for inclusion.
The Orlando shooter was a community college student in 2006 and identified as a person with intense homophobic language and behaviors. What could have been done differently in response to this student? Perhaps nothing that would have changed the outcome, but we will never know. Cultures of advocacy for LGBTQ and persons of color are in early stages of development on campuses. Less than 300 colleges and universities have LGBT centers and multicultural centers are underfunded and understaffed. We can change this climate by taking personal and professional responsibility for self-regulation and awareness of what we need as well as what students need, naming those needs and advocating for their fulfillment.
I am particularly moved this week by the challenge Arminio, Torres and Pope express in their text, Why Aren’t We There Yet? Taking Personal Responsibility for Creating an Inclusive Campus.
In closing, I share it with you for reflection:
In what ways have I initiated a dialogue that promoted human dignity, equality and community that serves to move my institution to be truly inclusive?
–J. Arminio, V. Torres & R. Pope 2012
This post is part of our #SAprosContribute series, which aims to answer the question: How can you contribute solutions or actions when a tragedy like Orlando occurs as a Student Affairs professional? We will hear from Student Affairs Professionals of all backgrounds on their take on contributing to make positive change on campus after a tragedy. For more info, please see Mehtap’s intro post. Be sure to check out other posts in this series.