How other colleges respond to death

Cornell attempted to raise awareness about resources after student deaths

· February 6, 2014, 11:11 pm   ·  Updated February 7, 2014, 12:06 pm

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In light of recent undergraduate deaths on Penn’s campus, The Daily Pennsylvanian examined how students, administrators and communities at two other universities have reacted to student deaths on their campuses.

At Cornell, three students committed suicide within the span of a month in 2010 by jumping off of campus bridges. At Boston University, 12 students died between April 2012 and May 2013, one of whom was killed in the Boston Marathon bombing.

Cornell University

According to The Daily Sun, Cornell’s student newspaper, following the three student deaths in 2010, Cornell immediately attempted to publicize the university’s counseling services. The university created caringcommunity.cornell.edu, a resource that tells students where they can go to get help, how they can become involved in providing support for others, how to reach out to others in distress and more.

Compared to Cornell’s response to the first two student deaths that year, the third student death led to a more urgent tone by the administration, The Daily Sun reported. “If you learn anything at Cornell, please learn to ask for help. It is a sign of wisdom and strength,” Cornell President David Skorton said in a statement that was emailed to Cornell students at the time.

“We know we need to be doing more than what we regularly do, and we have that underway,” Vice President for Student and Academic Services Susan Murphy said in a video posted on the new website.

In addition to extending hours of Cornell’s Counseling and Psychological Services program into the weekend and communicating with faculty members, students and others over email, Cornell administrators met with student groups to coordinate a response effort. Cornell’s Empathy, Assistance & Referral Service, a peer counseling organization comparable to Penn’s Reach-a-Peer Helpline, was also open for extended hours. The student group Cornell Minds Matter conducted workshops in residence halls to inform students on how to recognize symptoms of depression and respond to them.

Cornell also created a workshop called “Notice and Respond: Friend 2 Friend,” where attendees were trained to identify and help students who are stressed. According to the Cornell Chronicle, this followed a study claiming that students are more likely to turn to peers than mental health professionals when dealing with anxiety or depression. As of 2011, over 2,500 Cornell students had been trained, most of whom were first-year engineering students, resident and graduate advisors and undergraduates in leadership positions at the time.

At the end of 2010, Cornell decided to put a permanent $1 million budget increase into Cornell’s Gannett Health Services to help with increased demand for student mental health counseling, The Daily Sun reported. Some students, as is the case with Penn, complained of long wait times to receive appointments at Cornell’s CAPS, which Cornell’s money was intended to address by hiring new counselors.

Similar to Penn’s Student Intervention Services, Cornell has a crisis response team with a member on call at all hours of the day in case of an emergency. They will contact family members, friends and other affected people of a deceased student and provide them with support.

Following the suicides on Cornell’s campus, aluminum fences were installed at all three of Cornell’s bridges to prevent students from jumping. Following heavy debate, the aluminum fences were removed and replaced with steel mesh nets over the summer of 2013.

Boston University

The 12 student deaths at Boston University in little over a year were due to a wide range of causes, including apparent overdose, murder, car and bike accidents, a heart condition, a fire and the Boston Marathon bombing.

In response to most of the student deaths and after considering the wishes of the family, the university sent emails to affected members of the BU community and set up memorial services in honor of the deceased.

Christopher Lisinski, former editor-in-chief of BU’s student newspaper The Daily Free Press, reported on over half of the student deaths that year. He said there was never an organized effort by the BU administration to address all of the student deaths, although certain deaths sparked individual responses.

Lisinski said that some students felt that the emails were so frequent that they almost began to seem repetitive. “I think we all had such distinct memories of all the other tragedies and then hearing about a new one we all had a collective, ‘Oh no, not this again.’”

After the most recent student death, in which a senior died in a fire, the email sent out to students by President Robert Brown addressed the multiple deaths. “Once again we are grieving the loss of a member of our student community,” he said. “While we continue to work to provide support and care to those most in need, each of us should hold close all our friends and colleagues.”

The parents of Lu Lingzi, a graduate student studying statistics who was killed in the Boston Marathon bombing, worked with BU to set up a scholarship in her name. According to the scholarship website, members of the BU Board of Trustees have already collected over $560,000 for the fund. The family just announced that five of 15 spots given to the Lingzi family at this year’s marathon will be reserved for BU students, who can apply by Friday and be selected by the family.

The string of student deaths at BU has not gone unnoticed by students.

“In my experience as a student, it used to be a lot happier and a lot more care-free,” Lisinski said. “Last year really got in a lot of people’s heads, and now we worry about things we shouldn’t need to worry about.”

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