Teaching During the War in Ukraine

Our students are watching as the war in Ukraine unfolds in real time on every form of media. They are likely frightened, confused, and distracted from their work. Their levels of information literacy vary widely; so will their access to and grasp of the facts. While we faculty may view the war through our various disciplinary lenses, or use prior knowledge and experience to analyze and interpret what is happening, most of our students are developing the relevant background knowledge and intellectual skills to do so right now—with our help.

You don’t have to be an expert on international relations to talk with students about the war in Ukraine. There are many context-appropriate ways to acknowledge what’s happening, express your concern, and facilitate some discussion (if possible) so that students can share information and some of their thoughts or feelings. According to research on faculty actions after a tragedy, students generally feel that the only unhelpful response is no response at all. Several colleagues who have already facilitated discussion of the war have mentioned that students were appreciative, that some were well informed and others knew very little, and that it was helpful to them (the faculty) to talk about the war, too.

If you’re seeking advice or ideas for in-class discussion, we welcome you to reach out for a consultation. Some colleagues might discuss an aspect of what is happening through the lens of their discipline. Some may want to share an article or two with students, and invite them to share what they know or have read, too (this option can also work online). Others may prefer to give students some time in class to write: They can write their thoughts, feelings, or questions on note cards or in an anonymous survey, and you can collect them and use them for an in-class activity or respond to them in another way. Again, there are many “right ways” to address a crisis or to help students make connections between what we do in our classrooms and what happens in the world. Faculty can engage students outside of class as well, through panel discussions, teach-ins, literary events, or by connecting with student organizations.

However we choose to respond, we must keep in mind the ways the war affects us all:

  • We have students from Ukraine, Russia, and other countries who are directly affected (e.g., FSU has more than 1700 international graduate students). Some of our students will be experiencing profound fear, loss, and grief. Some may be unable to sleep, focus, or concentrate. They may have mental health, financial, and other kinds of crises now or in the near future.
  • We also have students with family, friends, or other strong connections to Ukraine, Russia, and other countries in the region who will also be directly affected.
  • A Ukrainian FSU student was interviewed by WCTV. We encourage you to read her words here.
  • Russian and Russian-American students may be feeling hypervisible right now. Many likely wish their professors and peers knew that they want peace and have no control over the actions of the Russian government.
  • There has been a national conversation about the possibility of expelling Russian students from the United States. You can see related coverage here. Despite wide criticism of the proposal, the fact that the possibility was raised may be frightening for students.
  • All of our students may be frightened when they hear about threats of nuclear war in the media.
  • Students in the U.S. and around the world are marching, demonstrating, and raising awareness. You can read coverage of such activities on U.S. campuses here.
  • The fog of war can make it difficult even for experts to determine the facts in real time. If sharing information with students, double check your sources, and if you do share something that turns out to be corrected later, do update your students.
  • While most students appreciate opportunities to discuss and become more informed about the war, others may need to be excused from these discussions or activities.
  • If you are concerned about a student, you can refer to this guide to provide assistance. Please note that both graduate and undergraduate students have free access to Counseling and Psychological Services.
  • If you’re seeking informational resources, a collection is available here. This collection of papers on Ukraine, available for free this month from Cambridge University Press, might also be helpful.

One of the most important things we do in our work as educators is try to prepare our students to become the people they need to become, for the future they will face. The university education we provide together can prepare them to be informed and engaged citizens, and ethical leaders, who can preserve, shape, and participate in democracy. As American philosopher and educator John Dewey said, “Democracy has to be born anew every generation, and education is its midwife.” We are so grateful for the work that you do.