EDITORIAL: A student died — and Rowan said nothing

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According to the University of Connecticut, nearly 1,100 suicides will occur on college campuses across the United States in a given year. Unfortunately, Rowan University is not exempt from this staggering statistic. 

Rowan has experienced several student suicides during the last three years — each one a stark reminder of the importance of students’ mental health and Rowan’s responsibility to provide its community with comprehensive health resources. 

Oftentimes, Rowan’s response to these losses has been to inform the entire student body with an email addressing the tragedy and providing a list of counseling and psychological services that the university provides. However, Rowan has not strictly followed this protocol, often leading to confusion and concern within the community.

The Whit believes that Rowan University has a responsibility to its student body and staff to communicate these matters, especially considering Rowan’s troubling past with student suicide and mental health services. 

In 2019, Rowan University lost three students to suicide within one semester. During the fall of 2021, another student committed suicide. Due to the lack of information provided by Rowan University in 2021, widespread confusion and misinformation gripped campus regarding the number of students who attempted suicide and the mental health services offered by Rowan. 

Rumors swirled about drastic wait times to see Rowan’s licensed psychologists. Others discussed their personal experiences with the university’s counseling services, such as the time a student was told they couldn’t have an eating disorder based on their weight. 

At the time of this discourse, Rowan University President Ali Houshmand said that details were  purposefully withheld from the community out of respect for the family. However, when the student body was informed through a Rowan Announcer email, it contained no information regarding the student’s identity or that of the family. 

“We have a very robust team that meets anytime we have the loss of a student or a staff member,” Scott Woodside, the director of the Student Health Services at Rowan University. “And our role in policy is really to work first and foremost with the family. And I can tell you, when we meet with them, they have different wishes… about how we address the university at large.”

The Whit believes that Rowan University has the capacity to both inform the campus of a tragic loss and respect the privacy of the individual and their family. Removing an individual’s identity from the announcement is entirely possible, as proven by previous statements that Rowan has made. 

Furthermore, even if the university decided to not notify the community of a student’s passing, they still must take the time to be proactive about discussing Rowan’s mental health services — all of which can be done in a Rowan Announcer email. 

Currently, the university employs a total of 21 licensed professionals capable of providing therapeutic aid and resources to students. Additionally, Rowan partners with several local therapists and has roughly 80 individuals throughout the community certified to be a part of the Stress Management and Response Team (SMART). 

“Our counselors always stand ready to support any student that is struggling,” Woodside said. “Our counselors are always eager to jump out in front… and we’ll continue to do that work.” 

This is the type of information and statistics that The Whit believes to be a part of a critical response to the loss of a student. Although this information is accessible on the Wellness Center’s website, taking the time to remind students of possible avenues for care may just be the push a struggling student needs to seek. 

While respecting the wishes of a family facing such a tragedy is imperative, it is not an excuse for the university to become negligent to the needs of their students.

Additionally, with teenagers and young adults being those most likely to experience suicide contagion — exposure to suicide that leads to an increase in suicide and suicidal behaviors — transparency with the community and the discussion of mental health resources must be at the forefront of the university’s postvention plan. 

“Whenever there is a student passing, there’s a process. There’s a lot of people involved in making sure that those impacted are taken care of,” said Joe Cardona, vice president of university relations and a Rowan spokesperson. “And as I said, we [Rowan] will always go by what the family wants, and we will suffer the criticism.”

For comments/questions about this story, email the.whit.rowan@gmail.com or tweet @TheWhitOnline

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