In a recent terrorism advisory bulletin, the Department of Homeland security noted an increase in domestic threats from extremists within the United States. Some of those named specifically at risk were faith-based, particularly Jewish individuals or places of worship, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, as well as ongoing threats related to how people perceive the government’s handling of immigration policies and abortion. The bulletin also cited the potential influence of previous racially or ethnically motivated violence and the upcoming anniversary of the January 6th events at the US Capitol.
The students, faculty, and staff on our campuses deserve to feel, and be, safe. But, with constant media access to threatening information or ideologies, and violent incidents that have been perpetrated in recent weeks, months, and years, we must be prepared to respond with compassion and action as necessary. Below are five considerations to help us respond compassionately on campus when members of our community feel threatened.
5 Ways to Respond Compassionately to Threatening Experiences
- Remember how brains respond to fear. Our brains often do not do a great job of discerning the difference between a real and a perceived threat. And, the psychological, mental, and emotional weight of a perceived threat may not only be as intense as an act of violence but it is also reinforced with every new piece of information. It is important not only to listen when someone is afraid but to affirm that fear of what may happen can be just as traumatizing as something actually happening.
- Believe them. One of the most difficult challenges of encountering a suffering person is the temptation to reduce, downplay, or deflect their suffering. Some of this is because we care for them and want them to “feel better” and sometimes it is so we, the helper, feel better. Regardless, when it comes to threats or experiences of violence, it is essential to validate the suffering person in their emotional experience. There is a time for developing coping for the suffering. However, that first expression of pain is not that time. Listen and believe in their experience of pain.
- Report any concerns. This may seem obvious but, if a student expresses a concern that they may be harmed, it is our duty to involve those who are experts (i.e. campus security, local law enforcement, etc.) in investigating these issues. Additionally, our willingness to join with the threatened individual in the effort to keep them safe is a way to offer support, coping, and comfort.
- Take steps to increase mental safety. Following the events at the US Capitol last January, our organization put out an article outlining ways to practically increase mental safety during a crisis. These areas included safety of routine, environmental safety, information safety, and lack of change. For very practical ways to help students feel safer in these areas, please link to our previous article here.
- Practice compassion. When we have had repeated attacks in our country and it seems every day there is another online voice expressing hatred, extremism, threats of violence, or glorification of previous attacks, our students and staff in these communities could very easily begin to feel as though there is very little safety and compassion in their environment. While it may sound overly simple, being a person of kindness, listening, practicing non-violence in person and in online communication, and offering safety in your presence may do far more than we realize.
We offer with relentless hope that these threats of domestic terror will never visit our campuses. And yet, even if they do not, we recognize the weight that these threats put upon our students and staff need a response also. May our campuses continue to serve as a place of refuge from violence.
December 8, 2022. By Anne Rulo, Author, Speaker, Therapist. www.annerulo.com. FB/IG/Twitter @annemrulo