College Student Mental Health: What Instructors Should Know

Article by Kris Vespia

As a counseling psychologist who is an active teacher and a scholar in the area of college student mental health, I pay particular attention when I hear my teaching colleagues express concern about seeing more students in emotional distress. I am also keenly aware that these student issues do not only present in university counseling centers. They also reach into classrooms and instructor offices. Instructors, though, typically have no formal training in how to respond. How are we as educators to best react when a student self-discloses a trauma during class and begins to cry while other students stare awkwardly at their desks? Or when an advisee softly admits in an individual meeting that they have been thinking about suicide? Or when a student emails to ask for an extension because they are struggling to adjust to their new medication for Bipolar Disorder?

I have had many more conversations about these topics since the pandemic began. I hear from faculty who say they are seriously concerned about student mental health and feel both an obligation to act and tremendous uncertainty about what to do. Layered on top of that uncertainty undoubtedly is the additional strain instructors have also been under, leaving them less able to expend the emotional labor involved in such situations. I am hoping this blog will serve three purposes: a) to provide some context for the mental health issues instructors are seeing, b) to give some preliminary tips for working with students in distress or with mental illness diagnoses, and c) to offer a repository of the mental health resources available to UW-Green Bay students so you can make referrals and consult, as needed.

First, let’s talk context. You should know that you are likely seeing an increase in student distress, but that is not a new phenomenon. College student mental health needs were critical long before the COVID-19 pandemic. A few statistics may help. Almost 20% of Americans have a diagnosable mental illness, and the most common time of initial onset for many of those conditions is traditional college age (National Institute of Mental Health/NIMH, 2021). In fact, the highest prevalence rates of mental illness overall and of serious mental illness specifically are between the ages of 18 and 25 (NIMH, 2021), and that distress appears to have increased over the last decade or more. For example, CDC data show that suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people, and suicide rates among those aged 10-24 increased over 57% from 2007 through 2018 (Curtin, 2020). Looking at college students specifically, results from two large, national datasets show moderate to severe anxiety and suicidal ideation almost doubled between 2012 and 2017-18 (Duffy, Twenge, & Joiner, 2019). Perhaps not surprisingly then, even though national statistics suggest the majority of people with mental illness (including college students) do not seek treatment, across 150 universities throughout the U.S., counseling center use still went up an average of 30-40% during a 5-year period in which overall student enrollment increased by only 5% (Center for Collegiate Mental Health, 2018).

The COVID-19 pandemic has only made a challenging situation worse. The American Psychological Association (2021) has worked to document emotional and behavioral responses with their Stress in America survey, and they found adults between 18 and 23 (“Gen Z” adults) were the most likely age group to report decreased mental health as a result of the pandemic. On another national survey of 32,754 college students conducted in Fall 2020, substantial numbers reported some degree of depression (39%) and/or anxiety (34%) on answers to a mental health screening questionnaire (Eisenberg, Lipson, Heinze, & Zhou, 2021). And, you are not alone in your perceptions: surveyed faculty from 12 institutions across 10 states also said (87% of them) that students’ mental health had either “worsened” or “significantly worsened” in the pandemic (Lipson, 2021).

I also want to stress that statistics do not tell the whole story. What likely matters more to instructors is that mental illnesses have substantial deleterious consequences for individual human beings – human beings they know and care about. Those effects might include significant pain and distress, negative impacts on relationships, and reduced ability or even inability to function effectively in school or at work. These conditions are not something a person can “snap out of” or a sign of personal weakness or failure. Too many sufferers, however, believe those myths (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 2017). Mental illnesses are instead legitimate, sometimes very serious medical conditions; most are quite treatable, but those treatments can take significant time to bring relief. Consider this example. We use the word “depression” casually in everyday conversation as though it is simply a passing mood state. True diagnosed depressive disorders, though, are ranked by the World Health Organization (2017) as the leading cause of disability globally. Blue Cross Blue Shield (2018) has published data that also suggest people with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) have health care costs that average more than twice that of other consumers (i.e., more than $10,000 annually compared to over $4000) due to the costs of treating depression itself and its associated co-morbidities. More importantly, people with MDD and other mental illness diagnoses are more likely to die by suicide, which is the ultimate reason to take these conditions seriously.

In the midst of this sobering picture, there is good news. You can do quite a bit to help as a faculty member with some pretty simple actions. You are also never alone in these situations, and you and our students have wonderful campus and community resources at your disposal. You can view and print a full list here, and specific tips for instructors are included below.

Tips and Resources for Instructors

Click each tip to expand the accordion and read more.

Many students with mental health concerns have symptoms that impact their coursework. In fact, in the national survey of 30,000+ college students mentioned earlier, 83% of them indicated their academic performance had been adversely affected by their mental health in the previous month (Eisenberg et al., 2021). There are countless ways this can happen; let me highlight just a few possibilities. Major Depressive Disorder has a long list of symptoms, but beyond the potentially debilitating emotional impact, a few other common indicators include difficulty concentrating, insomnia or hypersomnia, substantial fatigue, and recurring thoughts of death. Imagine trying to read a textbook page when you are: exhausted from lack of sleep, feeling as though it takes every ounce of energy you have simply to put one foot in front of the other, reading the same words over and over without processing them, and focusing extensively on repeated thoughts of worthlessness or death. As another example, individuals with PTSD may deal with intrusive flashbacks or be so hypervigilant to small noises in the classroom as potential threats that they don’t process instructors’ words. Bipolar I Disorder can come with depressive lows, but we know it also involves manic episodes characterized by grandiosity, racing thoughts, and highly impulsive behavior. This student might start and finish a 15-page paper in one all-nighter and find in the morning that the words they thought were genius at 4 am are only pages of true gibberish. Finally, consider the student with an eating disorder who spends hours each day thinking obsessively about food, exercising compulsively, or hiding their binge and purge behaviors from others – or imagine the person suffering from schizophrenia who occasionally hallucinates and is completely preoccupied with voices in their own head during class time. You should know that of the UWGB students who have official disability accommodations, the greater numbers are for psychiatric, not physical, conditions. And the students with accommodations are likely only a very small fraction of those struggling with mental health concerns. That having been said, a student may be suffering substantially, and you will have no clue. We most frequently cannot “see” mental illness or know when it is happening, and stigma prevents many from self-disclosing. You have likely worked with, been friends with, or loved someone with a mental illness and never known it. People can be very skilled at hiding both physical and emotional pain.

We can help all students, including those who have a mental illness or who are experiencing acute emotional distress, by demonstrating that we: a) understand students’ multiple roles and responsibilities, b) welcome student communication, and c) have a willingness to be flexible. These three things will likely result in students feeling supported and seeking assistance when necessary. Empathy and flexibility can look like and be many things for different people, and it doesn’t have to mean being “warm and fuzzy” or granting every student’s request. If it helps, the greatest problem I tend to encounter is convincing students to accept extensions or an Incomplete because “it isn’t fair to others,” they “didn’t know they could ask,” or they “should be able to handle things on their own.” You may also be surprised by who the students in emotional pain are because they may be doing quite well in your class, but as the oft-quoted meme goes: “Just because someone carries it all so well doesn’t mean it’s not heavy.” If we offer some flexibilities to all students, we don’t need to worry about challenges associated with identifying those most in need. Here are some small but specific examples.

  • Sleep hygiene is very important to mental wellness, and yet we inadvertently encourage late nights or “all-nighters” with default deadline times of 11:59 pm in Canvas or by using early morning times instead. Why not use 5 or even 7 pm?
  • I know instructors who give students one “mental health day” each semester that they can take for any reason and then make up the work another day.
  • Similar to the mental health day, instructors can provide students a “free pass” good for one penalty-free late assignment.
  • Reconsider asking for a “doctor’s note” to justify extensions or absences. Students without insurance may not be able to see a doctor, and not all insurance covers mental health care.
  • Course content can be extremely distressing to students for unpredictable reasons. I do not use so-called “trigger warnings.” Instead, I inform students that I can’t predict what might elicit distress, but all students are free to leave the classroom or stop watching a video in online courses if that happens. They can check in with me later about whether or how to make up the work.
  • Be willing to consult with the Dean of Students, Student Accessibility Services, or Counseling services in the Wellness Center about academic flexibilities for specific students, as needed. Flexibility and compassion are important, but there are times when the most compassionate thing we can do is to encourage a student to take time away to work on their health before returning to school.

Amy Henniges and I worked to create a list of resources for all four campuses, as well as the local crisis lines for each community. They are now located on The Wellness Center website. Review and then bookmark or print this list for future reference. Share the ones for your campus in your syllabus or on the course Canvas site with a note encouraging their use.

Remember that you are not alone when dealing with student mental health concerns. Here is some information, along with some tips, you may find helpful.

Facts to keep in mind…

  • You do not have a confidential relationship with students in the way counselors do. If a student talks to you about suicide, that is something you can and should share with a professional. You also have state mandates to follow related to reporting child abuse and sexual assault.
  • You will not “put the idea in their head” if you ask someone whether they are having thoughts about suicide. A common reaction to that question is the person feeling relieved to share with you.

Strategies for Helping and Consulting

These strategies cover everything from emergencies and urgent situations to proactive strategies to reach all students in your classes.

  • Emergencies: As noted on the resource list provided, in a true mental or physical health emergency, you should call 911.
  • It is possible to call the Wellness Center’s Counseling services and/or Dean of Students Office to ask if someone is available to physically see or virtually meet with a student and explain the situation (if it’s not a 911 emergency, but you still feel the student needs to talk with someone urgently or at least that day). On the Green Bay campus, I’ve even occasionally just walked a student from my classroom to one of those offices. On the Manitowoc and Sheboygan campuses, you can also call the Agnesian number and ask about an appointment that day or for a counselor who can talk by phone.
  • If I’m in a situation where the student is with me (e.g., in my office), and I want to consult about the best resources for them or see if a counselor is available to talk with them, I typically call in front of the student. I want to be transparent and have them know I’m not “talking about them behind their back.” Of course, there can be times when that would not be appropriate.
  • In non-urgent, non-emergency situations, you can complete a “Students of Concern” Report on the Phoenix Cares website. The Behavioral Intervention Team or CARE Team will follow up on the situation. If you are unsure about whether to file a report, call the Wellness Center’s Counseling services or Dean of Students Office, explain the situation, and ask.
  • If something happens after business hours (e.g., a night class) where you feel the student needs to talk to someone, but it’s not a 911 emergency, you can use the community 24/7 crisis line or, in Sheboygan and Manitowoc, you can speak to a counselor at Agnesian 24/7 by calling that number. You can consult with these services for suggestions about what to do, and you can also call and hand the phone to the student.
  • If you are anxious about what to do or afraid you will make a situation worse, even if it seems like it’s a minor issue, find a colleague you trust. Better yet, ask the student about an employee on campus they trust. There’s nothing wrong with telling a student you are concerned about them and want to help, but you want to call someone or bring someone else into your office so that you can all figure out a good plan together.
  • Feel free to raise the issue of counseling or support (e.g., SilverCloud) if a student isn’t asking for your help but mentions stress or personal difficulties in passing. If you encourage and normalize counseling (e.g., “we all need support from time to time”; “people see counselors for everyday problems, not simply for mental illness treatment”), that may make a real difference.
  • Consider professional development in mental health issues. We will have a new opportunity on campus in fall 2021: Kognito trainings. Kognito uses simulated experiential role-plays specific to universities so students, faculty, and staff can encounter and practice in different scenarios. The initial At-Risk Simulation modules are designed to help us: a) recognize and identify signs of distress in self, peers, and students; b) communicate effectively to support someone in distress; c) understand support options; d) effectively refer people to resources; and e) self-reflect and apply strategies for resilience.
Knowing these few tips and resources may help you if you ever encounter an instance when you need to act, whether as an instructor or in the context of your personal life.

About Kris Vespia

Headshot of Kris VespiaKris Vespia is a Professor of Psychology and the Interim Director of CATL for 2021-22. She has published in the areas of mental health services on college campuses, cultural diversity and mental health, and career development. She is also interested in the mental health literacy of college students and the general public.

Designing with Equity in Mind: Reflections and Assessment of an Online Chemistry Class

Article by Bree Lybbert

With the abrupt transition to online learning in Spring 2020, followed by a summer of reflection guided by CATL’s Pivotal Pedagogies online course, I found myself feeling inspired to design my new online class for the fall with equity in mind. CHEM 108 is an introductory chemistry class that is primarily designed for pre-nursing students. Fall 2020 was the first time the course was designed to be online for the BSN@Home nursing program. It is a very content-heavy course that moves quickly with one or two chapters of content per week. To help students keep up with the class, I needed to give them the proper supports to succeed yet keep the logistics of the course as simple as possible. To this end I focused on four main elements in the design of the course that tend to decrease equity gaps: 1) an organized and consistent course design, 2) multiple methods for students to engage with the course material, 3) scaffolded assessments and 4) timely communication and feedback.

Organization and Consistency in Design

Utilizing a highly organized and consistent course design in Canvas was quite easy thanks to CATL’s Foundations of Teaching with Canvas course, which provided a template for instructors to use and adapt. The course lends itself very well to a repetitive weekly schedule where students engage with the content during the week and then complete a homework assignment and quiz at the end of the week. Wash, rinse, repeat… for 14 weeks. Each weekly module was organized in the same way: Overview page, Learning Materials page, Homework Instructions page, Homework Assignment (as a “quiz”), and finally the Weekly Quiz. Within a week or two, students knew exactly what to expect from week to week, as everything was laid out in a repeating pattern on the course home page.

Multiple Methods of Engagement

The biggest concern I had in designing the course was how to deliver all the content that students needed and how to do so equitably. Rather than expecting students to learn directly from the textbook(s), I incorporated my existing lectures and notes into the course. Similar to a face-to-face class lecture, I recorded myself using a webcam and a document camera talking through and writing out the notes for each week. Students were provided with blank skeletal outline notes as well as the completed lecture notes so they could follow along with the videos. These recordings were then uploaded to Canvas where students could view and download them to learn the material. I did not limit the length of the videos (though I tried to keep them to 15-20 minutes each), but I was cognizant of the total length of the videos for each week. I tried to keep the total amount of “lecture time” close to three hours each week, like a face-to-face class.

In thinking about equity, I also had to realize that not all my students were going to be able to engage with the lecture videos. As such, I made sure that the students had a choice in how they would prefer to learn the material—either by watching videos and filling out the notes or by reviewing the completed lecture notes. Although I preferred and saw value in students learning the material by watching the lecture videos, I could not deny a student the ability to learn the material in other ways, and therefore provided them with multiple methods to learn the content.

Scaffolded Assessments

Assessing my student’s knowledge of the material was going to be challenging in an online class. Unlike my face-to-face classes, students would have access to their notes and other resources for quizzes and exams. To address equity, I chose to make all quizzes and exams open-book and open-notes without the use of proctoring software. The assessment of the students’ knowledge was scaffolded such that homework assignments (set up as an auto-graded quiz in Canvas) were lower stakes with fewer points and had unlimited attempts. The weekly quizzes (also set up to be auto graded) were a bit higher stakes than homework (worth more points and two attempts, rather than unlimited). Exams, which were mostly auto graded, had the highest stakes, and therefore were worth the most points and had only one attempt.

Although I feel students had sufficient practice via the homework and weekly quizzes to know what to expect on the exams and to do well on them, I do wonder how well the quizzes and exams gauged student’s learning versus their ability to look things up quickly. Additionally, without the use of proctoring software (which has raised some equity concerns), I am depending on each student’s own sense of honor to only use the approved materials and complete the assessments themselves.

Timely Communication and Feedback

The simplest (in principle) way to promote equity in the class was to encourage communication and ask for feedback from the students. As an online class without synchronous class meetings, I strived to set the tone in the “Week 0 – Course Orientation” module that I was open to frequent communication with each student. This invitation was reiterated each week in announcements and videos. As the semester progressed and especially when the content got tough, many students took my invitation to heart and reached out for help.

Additionally, rather than only rely on written text for communication, I became adept at recording a quick announcement video or an additional content explanation video so the students could see the instructor behind the course and know that I was keeping track of their progress from week to week. After the first exam, I solicited feedback from each student in the form of a discussion post. I was happy to see that students were very open to sharing what was going well for them, how they were effectively studying, and that they were just as open to sharing what they were struggling with and aspects of the course they didn’t like (such as one question at a time exams!).

Another important part to soliciting student feedback was acting on the feedback. I recorded a short video responding to the class’s feedback, making sure to address their concerns and provide context for certain aspects of the course but also to let them know I would make changes to future quizzes or exams based on their feedback. These videos also allowed to me give encouragement and praise as well.

In Conclusion

Having designed and taught this online class exactly once under stressful, pandemic times, I can’t say for certain that my design choices allowed for full equity for all students in the course, but I hope to at least be able to say that I did address some equity concerns in the course. I will no doubt continue to learn and adapt to my students’ needs and be mindful of equity concerns for the next session of this class as well as all my other classes.


About Bree Lybbert

Bree LybertBreeyawn (Bree) is an Associate Professor of Chemistry with research interests in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL). Her SoTL projects have included the use of the Calibrated Peer Review (CPR) program as a writing-to-learn tool to help students develop and assess their critical thinking skills and she is also interested in helping students develop the math skills necessary for their pre-nursing chemistry coursework.

A clock with books.

Pedagogies of Care: Rethinking Student and Professor Workload

Article by Jessica Van Slooten.

The phrase “pedagogy of care” started percolating in my brain late last summer as I crafted a full load of asynchronous online courses and wondered how to best care for the students in my classes—and myself. What would a pedagogy of care look like, and how best to put this care into action?

I found that other scholars of teaching and learning were using this language to frame a number of student-centered teaching practices. One fantastic resource is the Pedagogies of Care website https://sabresmonkey.wixsite.com/pedagogiesofcare created by the authors in the “Teaching and Learning in Higher Education” book series published by West Virginia University Press—folks like Kevin Gannon and UW System’s own Cyndi Kernahan, among others.

When I thought about where to start putting care into action, I decided that the first step was examining the workload in my courses for both students and myself. I wanted to acknowledge the real ways the pandemic shaped our individual and collective capacity for teaching and learning: increased competing demands outside of school/work, cognitive impact of ongoing stress and uncertainty, increased emotional labor that teaching during these times takes, among many other real impacts.

I mapped the most important values for me as a teacher. I decided to prioritize frequent communication with students to create presence and community in our asynchronous online courses. And, I wanted to prioritize timely feedback on student assignments. Given my course load and enrollment, this would only work if I had the space and time to do so.

To help figure out the issue of time, I consulted the course workload estimator 2.0, a valuable tool created by scholars at Wake Forest University. The creators of the calculator have figured out some estimations of how long it takes students to complete a variety of tasks. You enter information from your own course in the free, online tool, and it will estimate the time it takes students to complete these tasks. While the tool won’t work perfectly for all kinds of assignments, it does have some nuances that are especially useful for folks teaching reading and writing intensive classes; it recognizes different kinds of reading and writing and acknowledges that each kind takes a different amount of time.

When I first used the calculator, my courses were in the 12-14 hour/week range, and I wasn’t sure what to think. Was this acceptable? Too low? Too high? Rice University’s Center for Teaching Excellence includes an article “How Much Should We Assign? Estimating Out of Class Workload,” which provides advice for how to use a course workload calculator and make changes to your course. The authors claim that “there seems to be general agreement that the Carnegie Unit recommendation of two hours out of class for every credit hour […] is a perfectly reasonable expectation.” For a three-credit course, this would mean 6 hours of out-of-class work each week; adding in the time we would be in class if we were face-to-face brought the total to somewhere between 8 and 9 hours of work each week. Clearly, I needed to make some cuts to more courses to reach this level.

As I worked through how I would approach my class differently, I thought back to my first Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) research project in 2011. In that project, I hypothesized that weekly blog posts would help students in my Women’s and Gender Studies classes learn important disciplinary concepts like the social construction of gender and intersectionality. After analyzing the data, I discovered that it wasn’t the quantity or repetition of assignments that determined their learning, but rather the concepts themselves—some concepts were easier to learn than others. I swiftly cut the number of blog posts, retooled other assignments to highlight these tricky concepts, and everyone benefited with fewer blog posts to write, read, and grade.

With these two data points—the course workload estimator and my prior research—along with copious reading about the perils of having too many discussion posts in online classes, I set on another path, guided by my ethos of care.

To further determine what concepts and skills to prioritize, I turned to my prior SoTL research in threshold concepts. This framework was developed by Ray Land and Jan Meyer in the early-mid 2000s. Their research suggests that each discipline contains concepts that have a number of features: transformative, troublesome, integrative, irreversible, and liminal, among others. (This extensive introduction and bibliography includes a useful description of these features). Learning these concepts transforms student learning and understanding. I find this framework helpful in determining essential concepts that build the foundation of my classes. Threshold concepts can be incredibly useful when streamlining class content and assignments to align with a pedagogy of care.

Luckily, one of the textbooks I use is structured around the threshold concepts model, and I was able to use it as a map through that class. For my other classes, I prioritized a handful of concepts and skills and paired readings and assignments with those skills, including regular lower-stakes assignments, and longer projects with various checkpoints throughout the semester.

Admittedly, there are some challenges with this approach depending on your academic discipline. In the literature courses I teach, it can be difficult to choose readings that won’t surpass the ideal 8-9 hours of total student work/week range. I’m still learning how to make thoughtful adaptations to workload around reading—for example, we recently decided as a class to cut one novella from our reading list in the major authors class I’m currently teaching. There are only so many Jane Austen novels one can thoughtfully read and analyze in a 14-week semester.

Finally, the course workload estimator helped me in another way; cutting the number of assignments allowed me to provide more detailed and quicker feedback to students, one of the values I identified at the beginning of this process. Rather than simply filling out the online rubric and provided synthesis comments for the whole class, I now added several sentences of personalized feedback for each student. I used these comments to connect to their ideas, offer additional questions and possibilities, and steer them in the right direction, as needed. Students regularly shared that this personalized feedback was important to them, made them feel like I care about them and their learning, and helped them improve. My pedagogy of care has, for the most part, succeeded in allowing students and myself to continue to learn during challenging times. This framework will continue to be useful in the transformed post-pandemic world, as I anticipate teaching in a variety of modalities in upcoming semesters.


This blog post is based, in part, on materials presented during the UW-Green Bay 2021 Instructional Development Institute.


About Jessica Van Slooten

Jessica Van SlootenJessica is an Associate Professor of English, Writing Foundations, Women’s and Gender Studies, and Humanities as well as Co-Chair of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program. She has been actively involved in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SotL) to inform her own classroom practices. Her SotL interests include scaffolding student learning, designing meaningful assignmentsand assessing student learning in Women’s and Gender Study courses and programs at two- and four-year institutions.

A complex graph on a black computer screen.

Fearlessly Facing Challenges: Academic Research and the Pandemic’s Effects

Article by Terri Fredenberg-Holzman

A once in a hundred-year event, the COVID-19 pandemic brought the world to a halt. Researchers around the globe have grappled with how to maintain their research agendas while devoting more time to teaching, administration and assessment in an online environment. The workload pressures have tested new and seasoned faculty members alike. Just as the phoenix regenerates itself, so too will the research community. The faculty of the University of Wisconsin Green Bay “are to be highly commended for their tenacity, adaptability, and commitment to student success during the pandemic” according to a recent interview with Professor John Katers, Dean of the College of Science, Engineering and Technology.

Professor Susan Gallagher-Lepak, Dean of the College of Health, Education and Social Welfare summed up the major challenges faced by UWGB faculty during the pandemic this way. Expanded workloads were induced by the need to “transition teaching to more online and hybrid course modalities while providing concentrated technology support to students as they navigated learning electronically. The transition was made more difficult with the pressures of juggling their own children’s virtual learning at home or even worse, dealing with the devastation of family members who contracted COVID.” With all of these pressures faculty still found ways to build online versions of practical experiments, designed lab work that could be done virtually and flipped classrooms by asking students to watch videos and read specific texts before class so class discussions could be focused on active learning and problem solving. Other faculty members built new relationships even in the virtual world while others moved from concentrating on national networks to seeking out and cultivating more regionally based interactions.

The changes in teaching and learning brought on by the pandemic have detracted from much of the global research community’s ability to maintain pre-pandemic research agendas. Holes in time sensitive data sets, access to on-campus resources, limits on personal interactions, subject availability and socially distanced field work have all had an effect on research functioning and design. “The pandemic has even affected the availability of lab and trial supplies and enhanced competition for public resources across various sectors of the economy, with funders both public and private pouring millions of dollars into fighting the virus” writes Maria Cohut in her article “Shifting Goal Posts: Research in the Time of the Coronvirus” (2020).

Following a year of disruptions generated by the pandemic, the University and many sponsored research program offices have acknowledged the challenges by offering a variety of flexibilities. The University bolstered its support for faculty and staff during this COVID year by arranging remote work options, providing COVID leave hours, advocating for performance reviews that address the challenges of COVID and by extending the tenure clock by one to two years, when warranted. Encouragement is also coming from many sponsored research program offices. They recognize that sponsored research plans, timelines and capacity have likely changed. Some are allowing grantees the flexibility to reschedule grant activities, alter scopes of work, and move project end dates. Others are even allowing some flexibility in the expenditure of grant funds. For example, the National Institutes of Health released this statement. “NIH understands that many researchers may be unable to work as a result of or related to the effects of COVID-19. If a recipient organization’s policy allows for the charging of salaries and benefits during periods when no work is performed due to the effect of COVID-19, regardless of the funding source, then such charges to NIH grant awards will be allowable.” Still other federal and non-federal sponsors are now providing grant recipients the authority to extend their final budget period on previously approved projects and offering PIs an extension of progress report due dates.

As Dean Katers made clear, faculty and staff “are to be highly commended” for their resilience in the face of pandemic-related productivity gaps and the resulting upsets to research momentum over the past year. As the campus prepares to open its doors to students, faculty, and staff again, rest assured the sense of community will return stronger and more robust than ever. Research, scholarship and creative endeavors will thrive once more and the institution will cling even tighter to the core values that embrace community-based partnerships, collaborative faculty scholarship and innovation.

Please note if you need assistance communicating with your program officer on a currently grant-funded sponsored research project about changes to your scope of work, budget, or progress report, contact the Office of Grants and Research at ogr@uwgb.edu or (920) 465-2565.


About Terri Fredenberg-Holzman 

Terri is a grants and research program specialist in the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay Office of Grants and Research. 

Building Upon the Land Acknowledgment

Post by Crystal Lepscier and Sam Mahoney

Introduction: What is the Land Acknowledgment, Why Does It Matter?

As we reckon with our nation’s history of genocide and oppression of Indigenous peoples, it is growing increasingly common for institutions of higher learning to create a land acknowledgment statement. Our university’s own land acknowledgment recognizes that our institution lives on the sacred and ancestral land of the Menominee and the Ho-Chunk Nations, while also acknowledging the twelve First Nations that currently reside in Wisconsin. Its inclusion in university events and publications has become a small but important step in increasing the visibility of the First Nations peoples that have lived and continue to live in this area. As the act of land acknowledgment becomes more routine, the danger is that, with time, it may begin to lose its impact. How then might we avoid turning land acknowledgment into a rote task that undermines the gravity of its intent?

Consider the land acknowledgment to be the first stepping stone on a path to becoming better allies as non-Natives. In order to truly, meaningfully engage with it, we must continue to educate ourselves on First Nations history and cultures, engage with First Nations stories in historical and modern contexts, and apply this knowledge in actionable tasks that honor First Nations people. In this post, we’ve compiled a list of suggested next steps you might take and resources to explore as you build on the land acknowledgment.

Next Steps: Forming A Foundational Knowledge of First Nations History

As non-Natives, it is necessary that we educate ourselves on the history of Indigenous peoples in the Americas. First, if you haven’t already, we encourage you to familiarize yourself with the UW–Green Bay Land Acknowledgment. Challenge yourself to go beyond simply reading the statement, and instead take the time to learn the names of the First Nations communities that were and continue to be affected by colonialism in Wisconsin.

We must also understand that First Nations’ connection to the land goes much deeper than the physical space—there also is profound ancestral and spiritual significance. Gregory Cajete, Director of Native American Studies at the University of New Mexico, eloquently explains: “It is this place that holds our memories and the bones of our people… this is the place that made us.” The land acknowledgement is as much about the connection between people and land as it is about their geography.

Going further, contemplate the Doctrine of Discovery, a principle of international law created by the Pope in the 15th century that was used to justify the dehumanization of the original inhabitants of the Americas and rationalize the violence committed against those peoples by European colonizers. Note how the ramifications of this philosophy are still seen and felt in our nation’s educational, legal, and economic systems today.

As you educate yourself on Indigenous history, we encourage you to engage with the session recording from the land acknowledgment session at the Instructional Development Institute this year. Among other resources, this presentation contains a collection of historical maps that illustrate the effects of colonization on the distribution, population, and land occupancy of First Nation peoples. Additionally, The Ways has a map of treaty lands, tribal lands, and Native populations in Wisconsin and surrounding regions, along with some important background information on the displacement of various Native peoples. On a global scale, Native Land Digital has created an extensive, interactive world map to explore the geographic approximations of Indigenous territories, languages, and treaties.

Going Deeper: Actively Engaging with First Nations Stories

For those of us who are non-Native, it is also our role to listen to the stories of First Nations peoples and learn from them. The Ways, mentioned in the previous section, is an online publication by PBS Wisconsin Education which promotes stories about contemporary First Nations cultures and languages. Likewise, Wisconsin First Nations is a fantastic collection of teaching resources on American Indian studies in Wisconsin, created as a collaboration between the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, PBS Wisconsin, UW-Madison’s School of Education.

Consider also investigating the university’s First Nations Studies Library Guide for a selection of books, websites, databases, and films both for use in the classroom and your own personal education. One recommended title to check out or purchase is Indian Nations of Wisconsin by Patty Loew, a comprehensive text on the struggles and perseverance of the Tribal Nations of Wisconsin. J P Leary, one of our own faculty members in the First Nation Studies program, authored one of the book’s two forwards.

Application: Respectively Honoring First Nations People

Expand the sections below for strategies for building upon the land acknowledgement to honor First Nations.

Did you know that our university has an Education Center for First Nations Studies, located in Wood Hall 410? Besides providing an overview of the First Nation Studies (FNS) programs at UWGB, you will also find resources on the languages, educational philosophies, teachings, and cultures of some of Wisconsin’s First Nations communities. When you have the chance, introduce yourself to some of our FNS faculty and staff, as well as the tribal Elders that partner with our FNS program. Be receptive to opportunities to collaborate and reach out to them if you have ideas.

Beyond that, think about how you might engage with our Indigenous communities outside of our university. Perhaps there are faculty at a Tribal College or University that would be interested in partnering in collaborative research or program development in your field—the College of Menominee Nation, for example, has a campus right in Green Bay. You might consider reaching out to other First Nations organizations and nonprofits in our community as well. Our Education Center for First Nation Studies is here as resource if you need guidance on where to look.

Another way to be an ally is to engage in events and programs that honor the First Nations of Wisconsin and further public education on their cultures and histories. For starters, try celebrating Indigenous People’s Day on October 12 and encourage your students to do the same. Last year as a part of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, the university released a short video where several students and faculty share what Indigenous People’s Day means to them. We also honored our First Nations by installing a land acknowledgment display in the Student Union, which showcases the flags of each Tribal Nation and a plaque with our university’s land acknowledgment statement.

You can also remind your students that November is Native American Heritage Month. Often the university and larger Green Bay area will have events during this month for students, faculty, and general community members that would be worth checking out.

Additionally, some of the faculty in the First Nation Studies program are partnering with CATL to bring you a series of events centered on supporting our First Nations students. Be on the lookout for more information about our upcoming reading group for Beyond the Asterisk, a showing of a FNS student film later this spring semester, and a larger workshop in the works for Fall 2021.

It is important that land acknowledgment is not an afterthought, but a meaningful part of your pedagogy as well. Perhaps include a short personal statement before the UWGB Land Acknowledgment in your syllabus in which you explain what it is and why you feel it’s important to include. If your class meets synchronously, consider making space on the first day of class to verbally honor the land acknowledgment as well. One suggestion by Dr. Carol Cornelius, one of our resident Elders, is to challenge ourselves as instructors to learn something new about one of the twelve First Nations of Wisconsin each semester. Then, when you include the land acknowledgment in your syllabus or discuss it in your course, you can make it more personal by highlighting that specific people’s individual culture and history.

Conclusion: Continuing the Conversation

It would be impossible to compile a definitive list of resources and actionable tasks to build on the land acknowledgment, so see this blog post as just the beginning. As you explore and reflect on these resources, we encourage you once again to utilize our campus’s Education Center for First Nations Studies, including their curated, continuously evolving collection of materials by and about First Nations peoples. They also sponsor Elder hours, held via Zoom this semester, in which students, staff, and faculty can drop in and talk with Napos, a Menominee tribal elder and our Oral Scholar in Residence. Do you have other ideas for ways you might continue engaging with the land acknowledgment and the histories, cultures, and peoples of Wisconsin’s First Nations? Let us know in the comments below, or by emailing catl@uwgb.edu.


About Crystal Lepscier

Portrait of Crystal LepscierCrystal Lepscier (Little Shell/Menominee/Stockbridge-Munsee) is the First Nations Student Success Coordinator and an Associate Lecturer for the First Nations Studies program here at UW–Green Bay. As a student success coordinator, Crystal works to build partnerships with Wisconsin First Nations communities in order to increase UWGB’s recruitment and retention of First Nations students, provides those students with additional support through academic advisement and counseling, and contributes to programming on First Nations history and cultures. Crystal is also currently pursuing her EdD in First Nations Education at UWGB and will be among the first cohort of students to graduate from the program in 2022.