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If You Are Concerned About a Student

If you are a friend, professor, staff member, or family member who is concerned about the well-being of a Trinity student, this page offers advice about offering help, including making a referral to Counseling Services.

HIGH-LEVEL CONCERN: If you believe that the student is at risk for being suicidal or violent, immediately call the Trinity University Police Department for assistance (210-999-7000). University Police will respond and contact Trinity's on-call counselor or Emergency Medical Services, if needed.

MODERATE-LEVEL CONCERN: If the student appears to be in distress without being suicidal or violent:

  • If the student appears to be in distress without being suicidal or violent, read 'How to Help a Student' below to guide you in your response to the student. If after reading you would like further direction, you may call us and arrange a consultation with one of our counselors. If you do so, any counselor who subsequently sees the student will know the reasons for your concern. If we have previously seen the student, the counselor cannot provide information to you unless the student has previously provided consent to do so.
  • In respect for student autonomy,
    • Counseling Services does not initiate contact with a student of concern. If you believe that someone should check on the well-being of a student, contact the Dean of Students (210-999-8843) who can arrange a "wellness check" by a member of the Residential Life staff, which would include a referral to Counseling Services, if indicated.
    • A student must arrange their own meeting with a counselor; another person cannot schedule an appointment for the student.
  • During evenings and weekends, you may consult with the on-duty Residential Life Coordinator. To do so, call the Trinity University Police Department (210-999-7000) who will connect you with the RLC on duty. The RLC will seek out the student and contact Trinity's on-call counselor, if needed.

How to Help a Student

Although students approach Counseling Services directly, some may first turn to you for help because they respect and trust you. In other cases, you may notice signs that a student is in distress or is having difficulty coping, and you decide to make the first move.

The Process of Helping

Helping another person involves caring, listening, understanding, and collaborating. Consider the following guidelines as you offer help.

Step 1: Set the Stage

If you and the student are able to talk face-to-face, ensure that you have privacy. If possible, allow for enough time that the two of you can talk at length. Minimize distractions (e.g., turn off the ringer on your phone) and talk to the student only if the student is alert and sober. Otherwise, pursue a conversation at another time.

If you must talk with the student from a distance, do so by telephone if possible, rather than e-mail or texting, because a person's tone of voice sometimes conveys important information. Before your initial contact, prepare yourself to listen nonjudgmentally to what the student might reveal to you about what they feel or think or have done. Your compassionate and supportive attitude will invite the student to open up and will facilitate your discussion.

Step 2: Listen

Listening empathically and nonjudgmentally is the most important thing you can do! Listening means encouraging the other person to tell the story of what they are going through, including not only the facts, but also the thoughts and emotions they experience in response to what is happening in their life. Listening empathically means seeking to understand the other person's concerns from their point of view.

Listening empathically also means accepting the depth and breadth of the student's emotions--including sadness, fear, and shame--as being normal and understandable in light of what they are going through. Avoid rushing to offer reassurance; the student might infer that they should not talk about their emotions with you and thus censor themself.

If you find the student being defensive or arguing with you, you may not be listening carefully. Instead, you may be attempting to offer advice or solve the problem prematurely, probably because you are under the mistaken impression that giving advice is at the heart of helping. In reality, listening is at the heart of helping. "Just listening" is powerful; it IS "doing something."

Step 3: Inquire about Suicidal Thoughts, If Appropriate

If the student is significantly distressed or depressed, it is important to ask about thoughts of suicide. Asking will not "plant the seed." Don't say, "You're not thinking about killing yourself, are you?" (Asking about suicide that way implies that you want the student to say no, even if the answer is yes.) Instead, ask something like this: "Are you feeling so bad that you think about ending your life?" If the student admits to such thoughts, ask for specifics about what the student contemplates. The more specific and lethal the thoughts, the greater the risk. If you learn that the student is at risk of committing suicide or being violent, ensure you know of the student's current location and call the Trinity University Police Department for assistance (210-999-7000) if the student is on campus, including in the City Vista apartments. If the student is off campus, call 911.

Step 4: Explore Options

Offer to help the student generate and consider options for coping with or responding to the problem(s) they are experiencing. (Be aware, however, that some students don't need this help because your empathic listening helped them to get unstuck and do what they need to do.) If the student is open to you helping them brainstorm what to do, a good place to start is to ask what the student has already done. Then ask what the student has considered doing. After the student has generated their ideas, you may have some additional options to offer for their consideration.

Be mindful that one option is to seek input from others on campus. Depending on whether the concerns are academic, career-related, or personal, you might suggest that the student consult with a professor, adviser, or member of the staff of campus support services such as Counseling Services. Please see ‘Campus Resources’ below for further information about some of the other support services offered on campus.

Step 5: Make a Plan

Although you can be helpful in brainstorming options, the final decision about how to proceed remains with the student. It is important that the student make their own plan of action because they are they more likely to follow through on a plan that is personally acceptable.

The student may not feel better immediately after having talked with you. They may need some time (days, weeks or months) to work through their situation. Your ongoing support, understanding, and acceptance is important during this period.

"What if the Student Refuses My Help?"

Unfortunately, you cannot make someone open up to you and accept your help. If the student insists that things are okay, convey your ongoing concern and your willingness to offer support in the future. If you later observe continuing or additional signs that the student is struggling, approach the student again to share what you've observed and offer to listen.

It is also possible that the student does not want to burden you with their problems, especially if they have experienced you as someone who is prone to worry. So, you might remind the student that Counseling Services is a place where they can talk confidentially about whatever they may be concerned about.

Campus Resources

In addition to the assistance Counseling Services can offer, we have helpful colleagues on campus who are available to assist students, parents, faculty, and staff. Indeed, these individuals frequently collaborate with us to assist our clients when we have received the client's permission to share information.

Mr. David Tuttle, Dean of Students, is the person on campus with the greatest ability to inquire about the well-being of a student. Dean Tuttle is a resource for students in need, their friends, family members, and people in the community. If needed, he can arrange a "wellness check" on a student who is living on campus though a member of the Residential Life staff. You can reach Mr. Tuttle at 210-999-8844 or 210-861-6422 (cell).

Dr. Michael Soto, Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs: Student Academic Issues and Retention, is able to assist students and parents with matters related to a student's academic experience at Trinity. This includes academic advising, grading, course overloads, and exceptions to academic policies. Additionally, Dr. Soto provides consultation when a student contemplates a temporary withdrawal. You can reach Dr. Soto at 210-999-7561.

The Rev. Alex Serna-Wallender, University Chaplain, is available as a spiritual resource for all members of the university community, regardless of religious affiliation. He is useful for pastoral counsel, spiritual direction, or as a sounding board with whom a student can ponder deep questions and vocational concerns. You can reach Mr. Serna-Wallender at 210-999-7311.

Dr. Myeshia Smith, Assistant Director for Student Accessibility Services, is available to assist students with a diagnosed disability to obtain reasonable accommodations. Detailed information is available at the SAS website. You can reach Dr. Smith at 210-999-8528.