Teaching Strategy Spotlight – Comics in the Classroom

Zack Kruse Teaching Spotlight

Article by Zack Kruse, Lecturer for Applied Writing and English

Background

POW speech bubble

Professor Kruse earned his undergraduate degree in 2004 and then worked in the comics industry for a decade. He went on to earn his PhD from Michigan State in English, focusing in visual media and American Cultural Studies. His dissertation was published by University Press in Mississippi. That book, Mysterious Travelers: Steve Ditko and the Search for a New Liberal Identity was nominated for an Eisner award. Professor Kruse is also writing for a comic series called Static, one of Steve Ditko’s creations, and he wrote a comic strip called Mystery Solved! which appeared in Skeptical Inquirer Magazine. He is in the process of creating a documentary based on the books of Steve Ditko.

Strategy

Comic books are an enduring form of storytelling that several instructors on our campus are using. Professor Kruse’s classroom strategy is using comic books both as literature in English classes and to teach visual literacy in writing foundations courses. Zack also teaches a first-year seminar focused on comic books and American culture. The comics are used to convey ideas about society using characters and ideas that students are more familiar with. It meets the students “where they are” and gives a diverse student population the opportunity to see others like themselves within the pages of these books and also as creators.

Why Is It Important?

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Professor Kruse makes it clear that he is passionate both about comics and the students within his classroom. He is aware of the broad cultural impact of comic books and that these texts invite a sense of discovery by looking at characters that are likely familiar in a new way.  He believes that comics help students who are trying to find their place in the world see others like themselves doing the same thing. It also can help students who are hesitant to read to ultimately engage with ideas in a more accessible way and become part of the cultural conversation. The history of comics is a history of many of the divisive issues in our current time. Comics have existed as long as many of these issues and they have something to say to our students. His hope is that young people will engage with these texts and then act where they feel passionate.

Want to Try It?

Boom speech bubbleProfessor Kruse has used the following comic books in his classroom. Some of those comic studies have included author visits. Professor Kruse uses a multitude of others not listed here and would be happy to offer recommendations if you’d like to integrate some of these works into your own classroom.

Want to Know More? Explore Additional Resources!

*Speech Bubbles covered by a Creative Commons license and provided courtesy of Rojal on PNG All

Share with Your Colleagues

Do you have a strategy you’d like to share with your colleagues? Send a quick email to catl@uwgb.edu and we will follow up with you to create your teaching strategy spotlight! We would love to hear from you!

Oral Exams as Alternative (and Authentic) Assessments

Article by Amy J. & James E. Kabrhel, Ph.D., Associate Professors of Chemistry

In the Summer of 2020 during the heat of the COVID-19 pandemic, we learned that we would be allowed to come back to face-to-face instruction in Fall 2020 as long as we used methods allowing social distancing and flexibility for student attendance. I knew I wanted to return to face-to-face teaching as much as possible, but I also understood that many students might contract COVID and be unable to attend in-person class sessions, thereby potentially missing exams or other assessments. I considered several different assessment options to replace the exams I traditionally gave in my CHEM 211 & CHEM 212 (Principles of Chemistry I & II) courses. Some options I considered were online exams and take-home exams. Each has its own pros and cons. For instance, students can easily cheat on online exams thanks to websites like Chegg. The same goes for take-home exams. After carefully considering the pros and cons of various assessment methods, I decided to try oral exams. 

I scheduled the oral exams for each week following the conclusion of each unit. This led to four oral exams per student throughout the semester and one oral final exam per student during finals week. The in-semester exams were 30 min each and the final exam was 60 min each. I googled how to create an Appointment Group in Canvas and created several 30-min timeslots for students to choose from at times that worked for me but hopefully also worked for my students. I tried to offer a variety of days and times throughout each exam week, and I made the Appointment Group available one week before each exam week. I also provided students with instructions on how to select a timeslot in Canvas. The students then went into the Canvas Calendar and chose the timeslot that worked best for them on a first-come-first-served basis. Canvas emails instructors each time an appointment is selected, so I would then create a Zoom link for that oral exam session and send it to the student. I chose to use unique Zoom links for each student to ensure privacy for each exam. 

The student and I logged into Zoom at the scheduled exam time. I had several questions prepared to ask them that I also shared in Zoom for added accessibility. In essence, we had a conversation about the chemistry they had learned for the past month. I was able to give them immediate feedback on their answers and explanations, allowing them to correct their thinking on the spot. I had a grading rubric with me to keep track of how many times I needed to help them answer a question. Each bit of help was a loss of a point (see example assessment table). If a student was stuck on a question, we could move on to the next and return to any left at the end. In most cases, students finished in less than 30 min. In some cases, however, students needed more time, and I emailed them the questions to complete as a take-home exam.

Overal Understanding 20 pts
Ch. 13 30 pts
Ch. 14 30 pts
Prompting 20 pts
TOTAL  100 pts

I did wonder if students would share exam questions with classmates taking the exam later in the week, so I made slight changes to each question for each day of the exam week. For example: 

Which______  diffuses through air most ______ and why? 
Tuesday:  Halogen  quickly 
Wednesday: Halogen  slowly 
Thursday: Noble Gas  quickly 
Friday: Noble Gas  slowly 

The students and I were obviously nervous each time we would meet on Zoom, but after a few minutes, we would ease into the setting. Students became much more adept at explaining their chemical knowledge to me, and by the final exam, they seemed much less nervous and much more comfortable. Student evaluations confirm this observation as students stated they felt their oral communications skills improved throughout the semester. Overall, I think the students may not have loved the oral exams, but they appreciated their flexibility and immediate feedback. Due to this success, my husband and fellow instructor, James Kabrhel, decided to incorporate some oral assessments into his CHEM 302 & 303 (Organic Chemistry I & II) courses, and his impressions are given in the following paragraph.

Organic Chemistry originating from Manitowoc/Sheboygan has been taught through the point-to-point (P2P) modality since the 2000s, but with the addition of the Marinette and Green Bay campuses to the class, providing exams and finding proctors is a much more complicated problem. One solution to the problem was to shift all exams to the take-home format, but as previously mentioned, take-home exams have inherent risks. To balance those risks, an oral assignment and an oral final exam have been added to the course to provide multiple assessment modes for the students. Students must complete an oral assignment in the middle of the semester as a practice with the format, so they are then somewhat comfortable when the final exam comes around. The oral assignment also acts as a mid-semester check-in with the students to see how they are coping with organic chemistry and their classes overall. The addition of the oral exams has been successful enough for me to consider adding an oral part to every exam, not just the final. – J. Kabrhel, personal interview, 2023

You may be thinking that giving oral exams is way too much of a time commitment. I thought it would be as well, but it was not as bad as I expected. I found that it took me the same amount of time to write an oral exam as it did a traditional exam. The difference in time came when comparing the time to administer the exam versus the time to grade the exam (see below). A traditional exam takes one class session to administer but takes much longer to grade, which is dependent on the number of students in the course as well as the difficulty in grading each question. However, administering the oral exams took 30 min per student (9 hours for me as I had 18 students in Fall 2020) but took me almost no time at all to grade because I was grading them while administering them, so the only extra time needed was to type those scores into Canvas. In the end, I found oral exams to be slightly less time intensive than traditional exams.

We (Amy & James) have found the following pros and cons of using oral exams in our courses:

Pros  Cons 
Assessment as a conversation. Big time commitment during exam weeks.
Opportunity for 2nd chances on questions. Not easy to assess complex problem-solving questions.
Misunderstandings corrected immediately. Technology issues.
Immediate feedback; faster grading.
Greater connection with students.  
Improvement in oral communication skills.  

As mentioned in the list above, one con is the huge time commitment during exam weeks. I had to block off nearly my entire week for oral exams. It also was not possible to ask complex problem-solving questions as it simply took students too long to answer them during the exams. Finally, there were some technical issues once in a while. Many of my students live in rural areas where their internet connections are not strong, so we would lose our connection, which took time away from the exams. (This is often when I would have to resort to giving the exam as a take-home, which was not my preference but was a suitable backup option.)

Overall, we feel the pros outweigh the cons, and oral exams are an excellent assessment option if they work for your pedagogical style. They do work best in smaller classes. We feel the max number of students for this method to be manageable would be 24. Beyond that, you would need to have a co-instructor or teaching assistant to help you complete all the exams within one week. In case you are curious, I (Amy) did not continue using oral exams after we returned to fully face-to-face courses, but this is mostly due to my introverted personality 🙂. James, however, is planning on adding more oral assessments to his course due to their equitable nature and the way it allows him to better connect with his students, especially those at campuses he cannot visit regularly. Oral exams are a valid and valuable assessment method, and if you have any questions for us about using oral exams in your courses, we would be more than happy to chat with you about them

Implementing Negotiable Grading Schemes

Article by Amy J. Kabrhel, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Chemistry & 2022-23 Instructional Development Consultant

For years I have seen students enter my courses on the first day of classes eager to engage with the course material who then slowly stop doing the homework but still perform well on the exams. I wondered if this was due to exhaustion, being overwhelmed with other demands on their time, or, frankly, just laziness. On the flip side, I have had students who rock it on the homework and fumble on the exams. I know they have learned the material being assessed but their ability to show me what they have learned via my exams is hindered. There are several reasons for this (undiagnosed learning disability, test anxiety, lack of sleep, etc.), but after 16 years of teaching in higher education, I have finally decided to make my course grading scheme more equitable for the wide variety of students I see in my courses. In Fall of 2022, I implemented a negotiable grading scheme in my CHEM 211 (Principles of Chemistry I) course as detailed below.

Negotiable Grading Scheme for CHEM 211
#1-Consistency Commander #2-Exam Rockstar #3-Quiz Master #4-Final Boss
Exams (4): 40% (10% each) 56% (14% each) 24% (6% each) 40% (10% each)
Final Exam: 15%

(equiv. to 1.5 exams)

21%

(equiv. to 1.5 exams)

9%

(equiv. to 1.5 exams)

25%

(equiv. to 2.5 exams)

Online Homework

(42-lowest 2 dropped):

20%

(0.5% each)

5%

(0.125% each)

40%

(1% each)

15%

(0.375% each)

Pre-Lecture Quizzes

(37-lowest 7 dropped):

10%

(~0.33% each)

3%

(0.1% each)

12%

(0.4% each)

5%

(~0.17% each)

Discussion (4 graded): 5% (1.25% per graded week)
Project: 10%

#1–Consistency Commander: Tends to maintain consistent and successful study/learning strategies across the semester, appreciates the use of homework and quizzes to regularly check in and keep motivation up.

#2–Exam Rockstar: Prefers to spend time studying for exams, does not place a high priority on weekly check-in assessments (homework and quizzes).

#3–Quiz Master: Places a high priority on weekly check-in assessments (homework and quizzes) to regularly keep up with the material, places a lower priority on exams.

#4–Final Boss: Prefers synthesizing knowledge across the term and proving their knowledge acquisition at the end of the semester on the cumulative Final Exam, places a lower priority on weekly check-in assessments.

In this negotiable grading system, students select the grading scheme that best matches their abilities, learning preferences, time constraints, and anxieties. On the first day of classes last fall, I introduced these grading schemes, described each in a bit more detail, and then asked each student to fill out a small sheet of scratch paper with their name and their preferred grading scheme. I made it clear that they were not locked into this scheme on Day 1 but that by reflecting on their choice at the beginning of the semester, they knew where to focus their efforts. After Exam 2 (approximately halfway through the semester), we revisited the grading schemes, and students locked in their scheme for the semester.

On Day 1, half of my students picked #1-Consistency Commander and the other half picked #3-Quiz Master. This did not surprise me since a large number of students have some form of test anxiety. However, after seeing their exam scores on Exams 1 & 2, which were quite good this fall, and seeing how a few of them had started not completing the homework and pre-lecture quizzes on time, a few students switched to #2-Exam Rockstar. After the Final Exam, I calculated each student’s final course grade in each grading scheme (easily done via Excel) and found that most students had picked the scheme that best matched their skills and learning preferences. A few, however, had a higher grade in a scheme different than the one they had selected. I discussed this with them (via email or in person) to help them reflect on their metacognition and to help them get a better sense of their strengths (and weaknesses) as a college student. They were very appreciative of this, and I believe this will help them realize where they may need to focus more of their attention in courses that do not use negotiable grading schemes.

This spring semester, I am using a similar negotiable grading scheme in my CHEM 212 (Principles of Chemistry II) course. Most of my CHEM 212 students took CHEM 211 with me last fall, so they were anticipating this grading system, and when I introduced it on Day 1, they were very thankful. Many of them stated that they wished more of their professors used this system, which is what prompted me to write this blog post. I think negotiable grading schemes are a wonderful way to make your course more accessible and equitable to our students who come from varying backgrounds with unique skill sets that speak to some assessment types more so than others. In addition, negotiable grading schemes give students agency in your course and a feeling that they have more control over their course grades. They can more easily balance their workload and put their efforts into the assessments that matter most to them. As you can see from my schemes presented above, all assignments are still included in each overall scheme; it is their weight that changes. In some cases (e.g., Discussion and Project for my course), the assessment is too important for it to have varying weight from scheme to scheme. This can express to students the value of certain assessments.

One minor drawback is that Canvas can only show one grading scheme. I chose #1-Consistency Commander for the scheme I put in my CHEM 211 Canvas page. This means students who chose a different grading scheme had to see me (or email me) to know what their current grade was on their chosen scheme. Thankfully, if you keep your Excel grade book up to date, this is not too difficult to communicate to those students.

Overall, I found this method of grading liberating for students and wonderful for student-instructor rapport. As mentioned, I am using this method in Spring 2023, and I plan to continue using this method in most of my courses from now on. If you have any questions for me about negotiable grading scheme, I would be more than happy to chat with you about them.

Revising—and Reframing—Your Teaching Philosophy

Article by Tara DaPra, Assistant Teaching Professor & 2022-23 Instructional Development Consultant

Why should you write a teaching philosophy? Chances are, you already have, even if it was way back in graduate school or when you applied for the job you now hold. But if you are going up for promotion, as many of us in the teaching professor category may now do, or if—happy days—someone nominates you for a teaching award, your teaching philosophy may need updating. You may be dreading this. You may continually move it to the end of a long list of more pressing tasks. You may ask yourself if anyone will really read this. Leonard Cassuto says what many of us are thinking when he writes, “Teaching philosophies account for some of the most tiresome reading that academe has to offer (and that’s saying something).” But must they be? Rather than a chore or a high-stakes assessment, why not re-frame what a teaching philosophy can—or perhaps should—be? What if you instead treated your teaching philosophy as a celebration of your time in the classroom and a vision for the future?

In an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education, James Lang argues that teaching philosophies “fall under the genre of creative nonfiction,” a genre of writing that privileges techniques like voice, narrative arc, and compelling details while insisting on a non-negotiable commitment to the truth. Lang warns writers of teaching philosophies not to fall into the default mode we so often see in student writing—telling rather than showing. So instead of regurgitating your course learning objectives or points from your CV, Lang advises that we zoom in and describe a day when those objectives were lived in a particularly meaningful way. He writes, “Readers remember and respond to your stories, not your explanations.”

Another hallmark of creative nonfiction is to distinguish between what the writer knows and does not know—and to lean in to the latter. In her essay “Memory and Imagination,” Patricia Hampl writes, “It still comes as a shock to realize that I don’t write about what I know: I write in order to find out what I know.” Teaching philosophies are, essentially, a personal essay, a space for writers to puzzle over a complicated question and attempt to answer it from many angles. The word essay itself means “trial.” What, then, is the question you most want to discover, as it relates to your teaching? What parts of that question have you answered and what parts remain a mystery?

Writing a teaching philosophy can help us to reflect upon and articulate our ideas about what makes for effective teaching. And doing this can help to ensure that what we do in our classes is consistent with those beliefs—but it can also acknowledge pieces of the teaching puzzle that we have yet to fit together. And so, while teaching philosophies should certainly highlight a teacher’s strengths and successes, good teachers might also acknowledge what they hope to learn next.

If you’d like to read more about writing effective and reflective teaching philosophies, CATL has gathered some resources.

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 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.