New student death policy strikes the right balance


Kevin Griffin

spent the last few weeks interviewing various officials around campus about the new policy for dealing with students deaths.

As I went about researching this, I tried to think about the questions and concerns that students might have about this policy. After all, the deaths of students were an unfortunate defining feature of the last academic year, so I thought any change in policy would be of immediate concern to students.

The biggest changes we have this year in terms of student deaths are the messaging. Last year, the administration sent out notifications for every student death.

That will not be happening anymore. Now, notifications will only go out when there is deemed to be a threat to the larger campus community.

Deaths from causes like suicide, overdoses and accidents would therefore not be reported in most instances.

I tried to put myself in the minds of other students to consider what they might think of this. While it certainly occurred to me that some would prefer not to receive notifications, some might want to.

After all, suppose there were several on-campus deaths and students found out through news sources. Even if the cause did not pose a crisis to the community, students might want to know if a death is a suicide or a drug overdose because of how that might reflect on mental health issues on campus.

Of course, it should be noted that the university has nothing to do with determining a cause of death, that it might take weeks or months to determine a cause of death and the university is often not informed of a cause by a medical examiner.

Yet, there is also other, in my mind, more important groups of people whose needs must be taken into consideration. That is the friends and family of the deceased, the people who are most affected by the tragedy.

Those are also the people best served by this policy. While the university will cut back on campus-wide notifications, they will focus on helping those friends, roommates and other people who were close to the deceased.

Also, the entire spectacle that comes with transforming every student death into a campus-wide issue can invade the privacy of the people who will be most affected.

Of course, we will have to see how effectively this policy is implemented. I hope we will not have to see it implemented often, but when it is, I hope it truly serves the people who are hurting the most.

Griffin, a senior journalism major from Madison, is an opinion writer.