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Increasing Mental Safety: A Response to Threats Made to HBCU Campuses

In the past few days, more than a dozen historically Black colleges and universities have received bomb threats. The students, staff, and faculty on these campuses have experienced fear, frustration, and the need to bolster their physical, emotional, and mental defenses. This cycle, repeating threats from throughout history, has existed for far too long for people of color and marginalized communities. And, it certainly has no place in institutions of education where we seek to enlighten and rise above the tragic patterns of our past.

While the difficulty of these experiences is near and palpable for those on HBCU campuses, even those who are not physically nearby may have difficulty feeling mentally or psychologically safe as we watch these events unfold. As campuses try to find a way forward in our day-to-day lives after yet another crisis that has made us evaluate our safety, we wanted to share some practices that can help us cope and feel mentally safer. We may not be able to control the world around us, but we can take steps to help the world within us.

Tips for Increasing Mental Safety During Crisis

Safety of Routine: When things are difficult, sometimes we abandon our usual routines. It is important to remember that our minds and bodies like predictable routines. As much as you are able, maintain your regular sleep routines, hygiene practices, exercise, and eating and social patterns. Aim toward things that will help your mind and body say, “Oh, yes. I recognize that.” Familiarity supports our psychological safety.

Environmental Safety: Our access to environmental safety has a lot to do with economic status, privilege, and available resources. That said, to the degree that you are able or have access, increase your physical safety and comfort. Be with encouraging people. Make your living environment physically comfortable and safe. Stay in for a while if you’d like as long as you aren’t isolated. If it feels better, lock your doors, turn on lights, read a good book, watch an uplifting show. Even small gestures can say to your mind, “I’ve got you. We’re safe here.”

Information Safety: Unless you are in immediate danger and need to know the current news, there is a different mental impact to watching the news constantly as it unfolds vs. catching the headlines later. Our minds benefit from debriefing important details rather than obsessing over every nuance. Consider the psychological safety of checking in with what is going on with this situation, COVID, or anything else distressing once a day, rather than more frequently.

Lack of Change: We do not always have control over how much change is in our lives. But, to the degree that we do, avoiding drastic changes during times of mental overwhelm or social/personal crisis can be helpful. If there are changes you need or want to make during these difficult days that’s one thing. But, if you don’t have to change things, keeping things as much the same may be helpful.

Finally, the chronic undercurrent of the pandemic means that any additional threat to our safety, personal, national, or otherwise, can feel overwhelming. To stay psychologically safe, consider remaining consistent with your routines, creating physical safety and comfort, limiting crisis information intake, and avoiding significant changes as possible. It is always a good practice to take care of the safety within when the safety outside feels uncertain.

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