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Leadership Statements Guide

Determine your next steps

In the wake of major local, national or international events, controversies, tragedies, government policy changes or court rulings, and other newsworthy situations, the question often arises as to whether University leaders at various levels will or should communicate to various audiences. Those communications could simply offer support resources or could state a position, either explicitly or implicitly.

While every situation is different and should be addressed on a case-by-case basis, University Marketing & Communications has created the following guide to assist in determining whether to make a statement and, if so, in what format. At any point in this process, UW leaders and communicators are encouraged to consult with University Marketing & Communications staff for information and advice.

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First, ascertain whether the situation meets one or more of the following criteria:

  1. It will or may have significant impacts on University or unit operations
  2. It affects or may affect a large group of UW students, faculty and/or staff directly
  3. It involves the death or serious injury of a student, faculty and/or staff member, is publicly known and the family has been consulted ^
  4. It may create a high level of stress among UW/unit community members even if they are not directly affected and a message providing support resources is warranted
  5. Direct inquiries, social media inquiries or other interactions have reached a point at which a broad statement is deemed necessary to address the situation

Second, consider the following:

  1. Is a core value of the University and/or your unit at stake?
  2. Is this related to the academic expertise of your unit and/or leader?
  3. Will taking a public stand through the issuance of a statement make a substantive difference?
  4. Is a statement on this particular event or situation – in the context of all the other potential events, tragedies and policies that could be commented on – warranted?
  5. If the statement is intended to be issued on the collective behalf of the faculty of a college, school, department or other unit, what process for faculty consultation and assent will be used?
  6. If the statement is taking a position, what will be the effect on those within your community who do not agree with that position?

Bear in mind that issuing statements on many situations dilutes the effectiveness of each statement and raises expectations from your community that you will issue statements in other situations. Taking a position – as opposed to simply providing resources – also may result in those who do not agree with that position not feeling welcome or represented. It’s worthwhile to consider the wishes of community members who are expressing passionate feelings about an issue, but it should generally not be the sole reason to issue a statement. Also, when determining whether and how to respond, try to evaluate whether the inquiries or demands are part of an organized campaign or are an organic groundswell.

Third, if it is decided that a statement is needed at this time, determine:

  1. What, if any, actions will be taken as a result of the event or situation
  2. The key audiences that need to be reached
  3. The key messages that need to be conveyed
  4. The best messenger to deliver any communication
  5. The best way for that messenger to deliver the key messages to the key audiences

Communications should be proportional to the situation at hand, with all-University, all-campus or all-school/college messages being reserved for those events and situations that call for the highest-level response. As alternatives, consider the use of social media replies, reposts or targeted messages, a blog post shared through unit/UW channels, posts on social media, meetings with individuals or small groups, or other forms of sharing your message.

Fourth, deliver your communication through the channels that best reach your audience.

Coordinate with University Marketing & Communications if it has been determined that your communication will be amplified through central channels, such as UW Insider, UW Today and/or UW social media accounts. If University Marketing & Communications is leading the response to a significant event, coordination is required.

Finally, monitor the response to your communications and respond accordingly.

Recognize that not everyone will be happy with the content of your communication, including any position it took, how you communicated it, that you communicated about this but not another issue, or in some instances that you communicated about it at all.

If you have promised action in your communication, be sure to communicate when that action(s) has been taken and be prepared to provide updates on any progress.

^ Please note that the University generally does not issue statements after community members take their own lives, in large part due to concerns about suicide contagion. Consulting with experts in suicide prevention is vital before communicating in such a situation.

With appreciation to the University of Colorado Boulder Office of Strategic Relations & Communications for creating guidance that inspired this document and to Dean Sandro Galea, Boston University School of Public Health, for inspiration via “When Should Schools Take Sides?

Last updated: April 17, 2024

Printable leadership statements guide

A printable PDF version of the Leadership Statements Guide is available for use as a resource. The content is the same as what appears on this page.