Guidelines for unit leaders: Responding to collective tragedies and hateful incidents


UBC is a community representing many different cultures, nationalities, races, religions, genders, classes, physical ability, mental ability, and other identifying characteristics, making it a vibrant and dynamic microcosm of the country and the world. This diversity also means that whenever there are public acts of harm, discrimination or hate at local or global scales, there are likely impacted people within UBC who deserve support, care and attention.

This resource offers general guidelines for UBC unit leaders who are seeking to respond to collective tragedies, hate crimes or other forms of identity-based discrimination and violence that may have had an impact on specific groups within our community. While all members of the UBC community may follow the following guidelines, the primary audience of this resource is intended to be people with direct reports including team leads, supervisors, heads, managers, directors and deans.

It is critical that all units consider some form of a response. In the face of a tragic event, affected group members’ feelings of inclusion and care may be influenced more by their unit’s immediate response than centralized institutional responses. Especially for people who are in less powerful positions and with marginalized identities, the Provost or President’s response may feel more distant, more institutional and less relevant than the response of more proximal leaders.

As individual units at UBC differ in size, capacity, demographics and other characteristics, it is important that the steps suggested in this resource be used as a framework to develop a context-specific process, rather than a fixed and complete checklist.

Broadly, during these events, the immediate goals of unit leaders should be to:

  • Convey care to the people within the unit who are most adversely affected;
  • Communicate resources for mental health;
  • Support existing or new affinity groups through funding and/or through the allocation of resources, such as food, and time and space for affected people to connect with their affinity groups during work hours; and
  • Communicate the Executive’s response (and timeline of response) to people within a unit.

Before an incident happens

Priority – Planning and building capacity as a leader

This guideline may be referenced during or after an incident as, in a time of crisis, people in leadership roles are called to respond in a timely and effective manner to address impact on UBC community members. For that, they should be prepared with the necessary capacities – be it skills to facilitate emotional conversations, fluency in current social justice issues and discourse, familiarity with available support and specific resources for affected groups, or solid relationships with affinity groups on campus, many of which cannot be formed overnight. Without these abilities in leadership, the burden of response tends be placed on those who are directly or indirectly affected by a given event (e.g.: leaders asking their IBPOC colleagues to advise on how to respond to a racist incident).

Competencies in these areas can be built in a variety of ways, including by reading books and listening to media created by people with a variety of lived experiences, by strengthening relationships and by utilizing available resources and opportunities. See the Resources section for a list of some of suggested resources.

While the incident is unfolding

Priority – Safety and immediate care for the most impacted community members

The following guidelines can help guide a response during an unfolding incident by prioritizing the needs of affected groups and individuals within a unit or department.

1. Determine the role of the unit

Units and departments should consider their roles in relation to the incident. Should the unit be considering faculty, staff and students within the unit, or does the unit have a broader audience or community to consider?

2. Evaluate the potential social and emotional impacts of an incident

Evaluating the impacts that an incident by putting it into context with multiple factors will help determine whether a unit response is necessary.

Some factors to consider might be the proximity of the incident, demographics of the people impacted, alignment with the unit’s and UBC’s strategic priorities, whether there has been a pattern or repetition of similar events or violence, the socio-historical context leading to the events, the extent of harm to the community and the salience of the issue in the media and public sphere more generally. To assess the media profile of the event, it is important to note that because of social media and the wide range of different global news coverage options, the media profile of an event may differ dramatically across different news outlets and localities.

3. Determine what supports should be provided within the unit

If you know the identities of people within your unit based on self-disclosures in the past, determine whether individual check-ins are appropriate and who is best positioned to do so. This may be particularly important for small teams or groups with less diversity in which only a very small group of people are more greatly impacted by an event.

Determine what support can be provided — for example, consider whether an affected person has immediate responsibilities they can be relieved of or supported in, such as extending a deadline, missing a meeting, or being relieved of a task.

Be especially attentive to and supportive of the experiences and resources of staff working in roles which are also connected to their identity. It is likely that their personal capacity will be significantly decreased as a result of the incident, while demands for their work and expertise may be increased in order to respond to the incident.

In some cases, you may not know the identities of the people within your unit and how they relate to a specific incidents.

For example, people may not have the physical characteristics of a particular racialized group but may have immediate family members who are affected and thus need time to support family members. Alternatively, people may not disclose other aspects of their identities in the work-place (e.g.: sexual orientation).

Therefore, you may want to ensure that you are also reaching out to the entire unit and ensuring that all are aware of the supports available and the possibility that they may need to adjust their work schedules.

4. Consider the needs and skills of affected group members to exercise agency and leadership

For a long time, out of necessity, members of marginalized groups on campus have had to play leading roles in addressing their needs and engaging broader campus communities in dialogues in the face of incidents affecting themselves. Making response plans without reaching out to them first can make them feel invisible, disrespected, excluded, or patronized. Connect with them and seek to understand their needs, including what role they may want to play, if at all. Expect and accept the varying choices they make. Some may express an interest in leading the unit’s response process, but others may choose to self-organize with their identity group with or without approval from the unit. Some may request time to take care of themselves alone, and others may not respond to your outreach. To connect and work with them in a good way in a time of crisis, building a good relationship with them beforehand is helpful and important.

In the immediate aftermath of an incident (hours to days)

Priority – Processing of thoughts and emotions. Support group belonging and a sense of safety.

1. Communicate what happened

Whenever an event occurs, the leader reaches out by email to show care to the entire office as soon as possible. This message can also indicate if a more official statement is coming as well as the fact that some of the details of the event might change when there is more extensive news coverage. Silence can make affected individuals feel invisible and a lack of care from their leaders and colleagues can generate a sense of isolation, apathy, and frustration.

Instead of focusing on a response to the event (e.g.: condemnation of a hate crime, scholarly analysis of the event), communicate care and support as a priority. Even a brief message with a humane and genuine sense of care goes a long way.

Provide resources for people in the unit. Emails could be sent out within units to provide mental health resources for people who are more directly impacted as well as resources on how to be an effective ally.

Unit leaders and instructors could provide encouragement for people within units to connect to existing affinity groups for support. Alternatively, leaders could help affinity groups within a specific unit organize amongst themselves. For example, a unit leader could encourage the IBPOC faculty, staff or students to reach out to each other as a source of support and even offer a space or time to meet.

Especially if the unit leader is not part of a particularly affinity group, this may create an environment in which people feel able to mobilize and create such groups. If there are too few people within a unit to create such an affinity-based support group, consider connecting with other similar units or departments that together would have enough folks of certain affinity groups to create a community of care.

Be specific about what the event means to the office and how the office can offer care and support to those who are impacted by the event (e.g.: give affected staff permission to take time to take care of themselves without requesting time-off, encourage staff to think about ways to support their impacted colleagues, etc.).

A timely expression of care can be much more effective than an elaborate and fully-coordinated response after weeks of silence.  At a meeting following the event, ensure that the leader is ready to provide opening remarks to the entire group acknowledging the event and the pain felt by staff who belong to targeted groups.

2. Invite Conversations

Consider whether a full-office conversation is appropriate and what conversations might be advisable in advance of this, such as conversations amongst smaller teams or within affinity groups. If there is going to be an office-wide conversations it is critical that people do not feel forced to attend and that the leadership clearly states that attendance is optional and that depending on people’s identities, they may choose to process in different ways. If there is going to be an office-wide conversation about these issues, consider the following:

Let participants know the goals and the structure of the conversation ahead of time so participants can choose whether and how they will participate.

Possible goals include showing care, processing together, strategizing responses, prioritizing actions. Trying to meet all of these goals can feel awkward, confusing, or frustrating thus leaders should identify and communicate which of these goals will be met at a given meeting

People will be impacted differently based on their positionality and relationships. Those most impacted may or may not want immediate support from allies, in which case there may be necessity to support these communities differently, to encourage demonstrations of support and solidarity without negatively impacting those who seek privacy. Or in some cases, those who were most impacted may wish to gather together without allies or others not impacted directly.

Participation should be entirely voluntary as people have different ways and speeds of processing, which can impact the conversation, the relationships, and how people respond to such incidents. For some people, global events could re-surface past traumas and they may not want to process in groups.

If there are going to be small group discussions, allow individuals to create their own groups or ask people who are part of these groups who are directly affected to let you know how they would like to create groups.

Ahead of the meeting, invite groups or individuals to ask questions or express concerns. Where possible, adjust the goals or format of the meetings in response to the concerns while continuing to centre the needs of those most impacted. If reconciliation is not possible, consider offering separate supplementary spaces.

Close the conversation with a recognition of the ongoing emotional and social impacts ahead. Whatever the goal you may set out for the conversation, acknowledge that the end of the conversation does not mean the end of injustice and its impact. For those who are affected by the event, it can be felt as disheartening or unethical when they are invited to a deep and emotional conversation about the tragedy and then everyone else immediately goes back to their routine life as if nothing had happened. Consider holding some time during the conversation or through follow-up emails to explore how the unit may want to continue to engage with the topic or set up a follow-up conversation if appropriate.

3. Support the creation of a community of care event or vigil

With skilled and experienced facilitators, support the creation of an event that centres the experience of specific identity groups if affected group members wish. All decisions around the event should be made based on consultations with affected group members. Depending on their needs and interest, these events could be only for and by folks who are part of specific identity groups to create support and empowerment. They may invite allies to attend but events should be facilitated to centre the voices of people who are directly affected. These events can be particularly important for people in smaller or less diverse units in which there are limited opportunities to discuss the personal impact of these events.  If your unit does not have the capacity to create such events, identify which organizations (e.g.: affinity groups) might be appropriate and consider providing resources and support for these events. Communicate these events to people within your unit.

Aftermath (days to weeks)

In the days to weeks following an incident, consider whether there is a need to create an official statement.

Note that although an immediate response of care (as above) may be important for all unit leaders, not all unit leaders need to provide an official statement providing context to an event or promising actions. Within each unit, there may not be resources or capacity available to write an effective official statement. If stated poorly, these statements could end up doing more harm or come across as empty promises and performative gestures that fail to provide care and address the systemic changes people seek. Furthermore, some units may be constrained by their reporting lines and advice from central communications who may discourage them from making official statements.

If the unit decides to create an official statement

In the case that an official statement is deemed appropriate, a leader might consider the following: the unit’s local context (e.g., environment, history, discipline, unit’s mandate) and the nature of the event will influence what should be in an official statement. Given this complexity, it requires a deep understanding of the unit in relation to an incident to craft an appropriate statement. Thus, to provide support for units, we have created a list of questions for units to reflect on in order to help write such statements.

  • What are you trying to achieve with the statement or commitments?
  • Why is it important to your unit to make a public statement or commitment?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Who are you speaking on behalf of?
  • Have you involved them in the process? Are their voices and perspectives represented?
  • Have your faculty/staff/students been consulted in drafting the document?
  • Consider the historical context of your unit/department/organization.
  • Have there been tensions that need to be acknowledged?
  • Has there been ongoing work that aligns with what the statement or commitments are trying to say?
  • Are there any other considerations that might shape how the statement or commitments are interpreted or perceived by your audience? Think about the different perspectives of faculty, staff, alumni, current or prospective students or different affinity groups, how will the statement or commitments be received?
  • Are you using current language? Are you referring to people with the language they have indicated they prefer? For example see various inclusive language guides for Indigenous peoples and Positive Space language guides.
  • Does your unit/department/organization’s current or historic actions match what the statement or commitments say? Is an apology necessary before further commitments can be made?
  • Are the statement or commitments aligned with the unit/department/organization’s stated vision and strategic goals?
  • Do you have the resources or access to resources to support the commitments you make to your community?
  • Have you connected with your unit’s reporting lines to assess what statement might be produced at higher levels to ensure a coordinated response, including advising communications and Media Relations staff?
  • Select three to four key messages you are trying to convey to ensure clarity of communication and brevity (something along those lines)
  • How will you assess the impact of the statement and hold yourselves accountable to the commitments made?

If the unit decides against creating an official statement

If a statement is not advisable (based on the factors explored above), the unit leader could focus on care and providing links to statements by more senior leadership or provide timelines for when a statement is expected (e.g., from the President’s office). On the other hand, depending on the scope of the unit, proximity of an event to a unit’s mandate, or extent of potential reputational damage if they do not respond, the unit may need to write a statement. In addition, in some cases, if most other “similar” units (e.g.: Faculty statements) are writing statements, there may be pressure for units to write a statement because not doing so might signal a regressive unit or an inhospitable environment for folks in the unit. However, a public statement has to be written for the affected community and to keep your unit publicly accountable to the community, rather than to make your unit “look good”.

Consider providing ongoing support

People will process global events differently over time, and sometimes the news coverage or social media related to events can exacerbate the emotional impacts. Public attention to an event may fade out after some time, but those who are impacted by the event can continue to feel the impact long after that, and it can take a long time to eradicate hate and discrimination. Therefore, it is important to think about ongoing care for those affected individuals. For some units, they may want to collaborate with affinity groups within units or closely affiliated units to provide support/resources to specific affinity groups.

Follow up (months to years)

1. Initiate a more long-term response

Contemplated incidents can lead to greater engagement and interest in taking long-term actions with your units to address the issue that motivated the event (e.g.: anti-Black racism, misogyny, etc.). For example, this could be an appropriate time to ask for more resources to support unit-level initiatives. The diversity and equity committee within the units may, for instance, conduct an Inclusion Self-Assessment or Indigenous Self-Assessment using those tools to identify key levers of change, or apply for relevant funding to support their work.

2. Revise your procedure

Revise your procedure for responding to these events and ensure that they are adequately resourced. Faculties or large units may consider investing in a crisis response and communications person who is is sensitive and thoughtful to the impacts of racism and other forms of oppression to ensure that there is someone who can help develop procedures and respond quickly and efficiently in future incidents.

3. Engage in ongoing learning

The unit could also consider what role it can play in providing education about the historical/cultural context for the event that have occurred to all groups. These incidents can also spur much greater levels of interest on a specific topic. If the unit does not have the capacity to develop educational programming, the unit may consider helping to communicate related events that are going on in other units or link to the Equity & Inclusion Office newsletter.


Please contact the Equity & Inclusion Office when units are responding to a specific incident, the Equity & Inclusion Office may be able to create a targeted list of resources for supporting specific groups or may be able to refer you to other units or organizations who have compiled resources:

For leaders at UBC

Other UBC resources

Other resources


This document was initiated by a group of Asian-identifying staff in the Equity & Inclusion Office in the immediate aftermath of the Atlanta shooting in 2021 that killed six Asian women along with a white woman and man. We hoped that this resource may help to create better supports within the UBC community when future hateful incidents occur. We are grateful to this team and also to other staff in the Equity & Inclusion Office who contributed to this document. We would also like to thank the CTLT Indigenous Initiatives team for their input. We recognize that working on a document like this can take emotional toll on those who have lived experiences of identity-based violence. We thank all these contributors for sharing their emotional labour as well as their professional expertise for the development of this resource that is meant to support the wellbeing and safety of marginalized communities on our campus.