The rhythms of academic work allow for a re-set each semester, but I always feel the most hopeful (and overwhelmed) as we arrive at a new academic year.

As Fall “back to school” season approaches, we are preparing to re-enter the face-to-face classroom at greater rates and campus parking lots and offices will once again be full. I know the chaos and uncertainty of the last 18 months has been relentless and it is not over yet.

The impact of the pandemic is still very present in many households and communities. Some folks are experiencing increased anxiety at the return to pre-COVID operations at work and school and the effects of collective trauma and prolonged stress have taken a serious toll on mental and physical health.

At UCF, more than 27% of our students identify as Hispanic and many have origins or connections to countries in South America (e.g., Venezuela and Peru) and the Caribbean (e.g., Cuba and Puerto Rico) where people are suffering from food shortages, violence and political crises. These realities have a major impact on our students and colleagues that we need to make space for.

If we are to value more humane and equitable working and learning spaces, we have to take into account the context that exists outside of our offices and classrooms.

Increasingly, there is a call to incorporate trauma informed approaches and frameworks into more contexts in order to be responsive to the events, experiences and effects of individual and collective trauma. I hope we can all commit to compassionate and humanity centered approaches in this new school year.

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Safer spaces
    • How can we ensure student, staff, faculty and community partners feel physically and psychologically safe when engaging with our institution? While we may have different definitions of what feels safe, it can be valuable to expand our awareness of those differences in order to address those needs.
  • Support
    • Mutual support and kindness can go a long way in creating a healthier working and learning environment. There are many stressors that impact the climate and culture of our organizations. Working together with empathy, compassion and honesty are important ways to create balance and mutual respect.
  • Structure and flexibility
    • This can be a tough tension to manage. However, a combination of clear and organized processes and expectations with some responsive flexibility can be key to managing challenges.
  • Equity-minded framework
    • Equity means treating people fairly while understanding that fairly does not always mean treating people the same. In order to examine our policies, practices and behavior from an equity lens we have to take into account context, capacity and access.

This brief list is meant to help us be intentional and thoughtful as we plan for fall courses, meetings, and events. It is by no means an exhaustive guide, but hopefully the links provide valuable insight into the moment we are navigating together.

Here are some additional resources to help you infuse equity and inclusion in your work:

Inclusive Teaching Practices

Inclusive Hiring

Inclusive Language

Diversity Terminology

Trauma Stewardship


This article was written by Jennifer Sandoval, Ph.D., Associate Professor and Assistant Director of Inclusive Culture. She can be contacted at Edited by Iulia Popescu.

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