Following a high-profile or critical incident, you may experience pressure by a variety of stakeholders to make a statement. This guide focuses on communicating about high-profile incidents that happen off campus such as a mass shooting, bombing, or high-profile crime, among others.
Please note that if a high-profile or emergency incident happens on campus, University Relations will lead the response with University and emergency personnel.
This list is meant to be adaptable to the unique needs of each situation and will help you ensure consistency across your responses. More detailed considerations are outlined below.
- Ask why you should send a response. Does the incident directly affect our community, would responding to a national tragedy reinforce our values, do you have a unique perspective on the situation, etc.?
- Consider your previous approaches to communicating about similar incidents. Using a consistent response process is important because responding to some incidents and not others may be perceived as discriminatory or contradictory.
- Contact University Relations and/or your campus’ communications office so you are aware of central messages that may be going out.
The circumstances of any incident, the stakeholders in need, and even the politics involved all affect whether or not the institution or a local department should comment. Consider the following:
- Is the critical event relevant to higher education?
- Is the department or University taking any action to support the affected community or to affect broader change?
- What is the circle of influence: Is it a local, regional, national or international issue, and how does that change any messaging?
- What are our peers doing?
- Will sending a response create an expectation that the University will send a statement every time such an event happens?
- How soon after the incident is a response needed? Conversely, how long after the incident would be too late to send a response?
- Define your audience(s). In addition to faculty, staff, and students, are there other audiences you regularly communicate with? You can always add to the audience but cannot pull back a message that was too broadly distributed at the start.
- Acknowledge the harm that may be experienced by a targeted/involved group or groups (individually name groups where appropriate). This allows your message to meet community members where they are without deciding what does/does not constitute bias or discrimination.
- Highlight support services.
- Outline what you are doing about it (listening sessions, ongoing research, etc.).
- Use the medium or channel that most directly reaches your intended audience; communicate as close to the intended audience as possible.
- Email is only one element of addressing the particular issue; consider whether meeting face to face or organizing the community or group (e.g., student organization or a residence hall floor, department staff and faculty) would be more effective. Remember that actions speak louder than words, and two-way communication often promotes greater understanding.
- Consider where targeted emails to individuals, groups or communities might be more effective than an email to a broad audience.
- Consider how you would share on social media channels.
- Tools for Communicating About Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
- Communication recommendations for responding to a death of a student, faculty or staff member
- Resources for Responding to Online Harassment
- Navigating Privacy: Laws, Policies, and Guidance
- Communicating About Freedom of Expression on Campus