Processing Trauma: Time, Space, Grace and Pace

candles at Rotunda
Flowers, notes and candles are placed around the University of Virginia's Grounds as community members begin to process the grief. (Photo University of Virginia.)

Dr. Kristen Roorbach, adjunct lecturer at the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, has seen all ages process trauma during her practice in educational psychology. While it is clear that traumatic incidents leave an indelible mark on everyone, it is never clear how to move forward through the grief. There are many different ways to process what happened on the Grounds of the University of Virginia, and the pain has affected the entire community. We have been hurt, deeply.

For students, classmates have been lost, football stars gone and the safety felt on campus rocked. For professors and teachers, they may find themselves the first semblance of normalcy a student encounters after days of mourning, while also working through their own sadness and pain.

But, according to Roorbach, there are things that can be done to help the processing of traumatic incidents, even if there isn’t an easy way to move past the grief.

Roorbach specializes in brain-based strategies and techniques, developmental research, and best practices in therapeutic intervention, general education, special education, and child development.  Throughout her career, she has helped educators and leaders implement tools to assist their communities after a traumatic incident.

Generally speaking, Roorbach encourages "time, space, grace, and pace."

  1. Time: People, students and teachers, need time to process the events and experience the grief, fear, or anger that may come. Professors can offer students the opportunity to take some time to process outside the classroom if they are unable to be present and attentive during class, while students should allow their professors time, as well, to adjust to an entirely unknowable and unforeseen situation.
  2. Space: Teachers can offer students a  period to reflect, discuss, and remember; however, there should be guidelines for this space.  This is a time for remembering, not debating or spreading rumors. Students and faculty members alike can allow each other space for all feelings  The emotions a person carries about tragic events should always have space to exist.
  3. Grace: Community members can remind each other that alternative timelines to achieve goals in education and academics are acceptable, but there must be open conversations and discussions about modified goals in advance. People may feel scared or frightened while in class. We can honor this real emotion, and then utilize resources (CAPS, Madison House, Batten's in-house counselor) to further assist ourselves and each other.
  4. Pace: Slowly but steadily returning to classwork, lectures, and expectations can actually be healing. While keeping in mind the above strategies, encouraging a return to coursework at a pace that is appropriate for the class, the staff, the faculty, the school (and individual students as necessary) can provide normalcy, sense of purpose and a way to honor the memory of the students who lost their lives.  


There is, of course, no right way to process what happened to the community at the University of Virginia. There are no clear answers and even according to what we know in psychological science, grieving is different for everyone. Yet by taking time, creating space for feelings, showing each other grace and understanding that everyone will move at a different pace these next few months, we can offer each other the support necessary to find our way back to Grounds and back to UVA.

Garrett Hall at Sunset

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