Dealing With National Tragedies as a College Student


Snowflakes made for the children of Sandy Hook / Emily Roseman

By Emily Roseman, Alumna of American University

Like so many of you, I remember the exact moment September 11th  rocked our world. Sitting in my sixth grade English class, the beautiful early autumn weather rolled through the empty hallways. A soft wind ruffled some loose papers as fast-approaching footsteps turned into a full-on sprint down the sixth grade wing. Faint whimpers and hushed tones of consoling were all my brain chooses to recall from that day.

This past week, a horrible event has become a statistic in my life of growing tragedies I have a connection to. While I only resided in Washington, D.C., for four years, my heart will always belong there, and the recent Naval Yard shooting tragedy has only solidified that sentiment.

So many tragedies have impacted my ability to grow as a mature human being but also develop my ability to reflect, grieve and remember, which is something that is so critical to today’s student population.

Whether or not you have experienced great loss in your life with a family member, friend or acquaintance, facing remorse from a national tragedy can be universally shared as well as personally experienced. It is the ability to personally embrace, question and reflect that makes us all stronger in our nation’s grieving process.

Embrace Your Emotions Individually

I’m quick to note that while I consider myself a fairly levelheaded person when it comes to distressful news since I work in the news business, I have grown to really embrace those moments of personal despair and heartbreak. Being OK with shedding a tear or even taking a moment from your day to feel sad is normal and honestly healthy.

While we all show and work through our emotions differently, trying creative outlets like music, writing, painting or even storytelling are productive and proactive ways to allow your emotions work through this sudden sense of loss.

Following the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, I chose a craft as an outlet for my immense grief. By joining in the Snowflakes For Sandy Hook Drive, I was able to create beautiful and unique decorations for the students of Sandy Hook to decorate their new school. A simple and profoundly beautiful action allowed me to constructively put my emotional energy into something so positive and uplifting for those directly impacted.

Home is Where the Heart Is

Being away from home during family occasions can always be bittersweet, but finding yourself on campus, not technically calling college your true home, and being faced with a national tragedy leaves you more homesick than ever. While the Navy Yard shooting did not occur directly on my college campus, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of heartbreak as I saw the city I called my temporary home become a scene of despair.

While fleeing home the minute a news story breaks in your college town may be easier for some, many who travel across the country don’t have the ability to get on the next flight to Mom and Dad’s house. Calling home on a regular routine, not just in the aftermath of a tragedy, can help give you some clarity and allow you a healthy dose of venting.

Let’s be honest, who else has been there during your lowest points in high school? Making a phone call, or if you are equipped with more tech-savvy parents, give a quick Skype chat a try. Just having that visual sense of “being home” with your Mom and Dad can put you at ease during moments of high anxiety or low points in the day.

But for those who may attend school closer to your hometown, don’t be so quick to shun the thought of spending a night or two in your childhood bed to dull the pain. Being surrounded by comforting senses like your favorite dish your Mom makes or grabbing a long hot shower (for once!) can be easy ways to ease your sorrow and provide you with a sense of gratitude. By identifying and locating that “safe place” at home, you are able to find the solitude and comfort most necessary to work through times of grief.

Take A Break, For Safety’s Sake

You’ve got to allow yourself space to breathe and create an environment for introspection. Many times during the initial moments of tragedy and immense sense of loss, all we want to do is allow that deep depression to consume our daily thoughts and actions.

While it is not expected or demanded that you rebound after a good five-minute cry session, taking the time to equally emotionally reflect and internally reflect is easier on your mental and physical health. Try to ease into a natural “pause” on tragedy by giving yourself an allotted “news break.” I’ve found this method is especially helpful for myself. After working nine-hour shifts with constant bombardment by less-than-uplifting stories, I allow myself a solid hour at home to debrief and enjoy some quiet away from news.

While trying to gather as much information as physically possible to try and digest your grief, it’s important to limit the amount of time spent watching, Facebooking or Googling, as the constant exposure can actually do more bad than good. By reading into every detail of tragedy, you will heighten the level of anxiety and inherent fears you have lingering, resulting in a more difficult stream of grieving. Scheduling some breaks for yourself is not only important to effectively step away from your pain, but it’s a good way to reflect and embrace the moments that give you great joy and relief.

Remember that no matter what your approach to grief and reflection on a national tragedy is, feeling stuck or overwhelmed at any point is completely normal and expected. It is always important to know that expert help is readily available on any college campus, and grief counselors or school therapists are well-equipped to handle any question or concern big or small. While our nation will unfortunately be bruised by the past, our ability to look back on our country’s moments of pain and turn them into moments of awareness gives us the power to move on.

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