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As higher education students and professionals here in the city of Boston, we all work with others who are directly and indirectly affected by the recent Boston Marathon tragedy. And, inevitably, we are also each affected on a personal level. Never in a million years did I expect I would need to reassure my family and friends that I was safe from terrorism twice in the matter of a few days. I am fortunate enough to have been cheering on the marathon runners a good four miles away, and therefore, avoided the direct trauma that occurred at the finish line that horrific afternoon. Yet the effects of the tragedy were felt in wide ripples throughout the city and surrounding areas. Heart-wrenching scenes like that out of a war zone or a brutal movie. Never something we anticipated would happen here in our own backyard. The sense of surreal violation hit me deeply—they violated our home, our trust, and our sense of security. I can only imagine how much this all is affecting our youth, and in particular, our college students during their formative years of development.

Poster for Liza Although the current tragedy is unprecedented, it is certainly not the first or the last time we will have students who need us to be there for them as sources of support. Now is the perfect time to address these needs in both big and small ways. For example, it is essential to initiate and encourage the simple act of student outreach as soon as possible after something like this. Many of our students were there at the finish line and witnessed the traumatic scene; many of them bravely stepped in to help the injured; many of them are friends with those who were hurt or killed; some of our own students are recovering in the hospital, and tragically, one of our students and one of our staff members in the Boston higher education community lost their lives.

Through such trauma, it is also important to extend authentic compassion to those who are taking care of others, asking how they’re doing on a personal level and providing resources for them. This is of particular importance given that caregivers often take care of themselves last. Sometimes we carry others to safety, and sometimes we need others to do the same for us.

On a long-term level, this horrific event is a prime opportunity to provide all of higher education staff with necessary training on basic counseling skills and best practices for helping students through tough times. Some of us have taken classes and received training on how to respond to our student needs with some basic counseling-based skills. And others in this profession are less well-trained in this particular area. After the bombing, one of my colleagues (who primarily responds to academic student needs) admitted to me that she had no idea how to talk to students who are upset, other than just giving them the phone number to counseling services.

On the other hand, another colleague helped organize a massive poster-signing event for our hospitalized students. She also emailed staff members multiple times throughout the week to check in, showing compassion and support, and reminding us all to remember to take care of ourselves and reach out for help whenever we need it. Getting through this tragedy requires bonding together and taking the time to extend our hearts and our efforts to create a positive, student-centered influence.

A line of students waiting to sign posters for injured BC grad studentsFrom this chaos and heartbreak, we must create something of good. To quote my grad school peer who was running in the marathon that day and blogged: “Right now, we need to hold on to the beautiful moments of yesterday and parts of life, so that we cannot lose sight of better days to come…Do not take life for granted. The least we can do, for an innocent death or harm, is honor it by being better people and doing better things.”

In talking with my students, I am struck by their strength and resilience that echoes throughout this city. I have never been more proud of Boston and my fellow Bostonians. This city is largely comprised of our college students, faculty, staff, administrators, and alumni. Now, perhaps more than ever before, we have the chance to make a positive, lasting impression, but it requires discussing the tough realities of what happened, helping each other out and synergistically moving forward. Together we are Boston Strong.

Jessica Crowley was a Master’s Candidate in the Boston College Higher Education program at the time of the Boston Marathon tragedy. The author’s views are their own and do not represent those of any institution, entity or individual.  You can reach out to Jessica directly via tweet or email. Please feel free to share this on your social network of choice using the link icons below. We also welcome you to share your reactions and stories in the comments section below so we may all benefit from your thoughts and wisdom.

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