How tragedy is processed

WSC’s system for campus tragedy is rarely used but still effective

Megan Tomasiewicz, Opinion Editor

Going to college is normally a part of life that involves finding yourself, growing as an individual and figuring out what you want to do with the rest of your life. It’s a great time to make friends and have a lot of fun.

But sometimes a young, promising life is cut short right on campus. Wayne State College is no stranger to tragedies that have happened in its dorms. The death of a student, especially when it happens on campus, affects many people with a unique shard of grief. Rumors and misconceptions swirl around the difficult situation as well.

So exactly what happens when a student dies on campus? It seems like a morbid subject, but it is important to understand how a situation like this is handled. The sad reality is that it has happened before and it will probably happen again.

Many organizations and entities on campus must work together to ensure such a tragedy is handled with tact and follows the correct legal procedures. The four most important groups involved are probably Campus Security, the Counseling Center, the Office of Residence Life and Student Financial Services.

After an emergency call is received, Campus Security is first on the scene. In coordination with the Wayne Police Department, they will contact the County Coroner and other appropriate law enforcement offices.

The response from the Counseling Center is almost as immediate. As soon as news of a student’s death is received, the Counseling Center’s crisis response team leaps into action. Lin Brummels, Director of Counseling at Wayne State College, is a member of this group.

Brummels is one of the first people to know when a tragedy of this nature strikes campus. The crisis team convenes at the location of the tragedy to counsel those in the immediate vicinity. However, the nature of the situation—whether it is a suicide, an accidental death or even something more heinous—does not necessarily change the method of their counseling.

“We shape our approach to those who happen to be at the scene,” Brummels said. “We try to offer the best counseling to students that we can based on what we’re faced with.”

In the days that follow, people from the Counseling Center will also reach out to those who were not necessarily at the scene, but who knew the deceased from class or other activities. This involves going to each of the deceased’s classes and handing out helpful pamphlets to their classmates. The Counseling Center also offers extra support to other groups the deceased was involved in, like sports teams.

“With Eddie Key, for example, we made sure the WSC football team was taken care of and knew we were there if they needed to talk,” Brummels said. The Counseling Center continues to offer support to students any time after such a tragedy occurs on campus, whether it’s a few days after it happens or a year. Students who are grieving in any way are encouraged to meet with someone in the Counseling Center to talk about what they may be feeling.

“When something like this happens, everyone is affected in one way or another,” Brummels said. “The campus experiences a death collectively. We all grieve together.”

The Office of Residence Life also plays an important role in helping the campus heal after a death occurs, especially if a student happened to die in one of the residence halls. However, this office’s involvement comes in the days and weeks following a tragedy. Immediately following the death of a student, regardless of whether foul play is suspected, law enforcement will block off the location so the body can be treated with the respect it deserves and evidence can be collected.

“During that time, it is the responsibility of Residence Life to support law enforcement in their investigation,” Matt Weekley, Director of Residence Life, said. “We do our best to accommodate them in any situation, but especially during something like a student’s death.”

After a student dies in a dorm room, there may be a question of what will become of the person’s roommate. However, Residence Life does not require an immediate decision on the part of the roommate if there happens to be one.

“Every situation is different,” Weekley said. “Some students want to get out of that particular dorm room while some are content to stay. We also allow students to bring in another student of their choice to live with them if they don’t want to be alone.”

Another situation that is full of different variables is when the parents must make arrangements to come retrieve their child’s belongings. It is an understandably difficult time and Residence Life does all they can to ease the process.

“This is another situation where the roommate can be involved. Roommates may have been close friends with the deceased student and will want to help their parents collect their things,” Weekley said. “It is all about empowering people during an incredibly tough situation and allowing them to do what’s right for them. Everyone experiences grief differently.”

Lastly, Student Financial Services makes sure the deceased student’s account at the college is taken care of. While this office handles the details, most communication to the parents is done through the Dean of Students.

The other offices mentioned use this singular method of contact as well, so grieving parents are not overwhelmed by contact with the college.

“Depending on how far into the year the student died, we prorate the amount they paid for tuition, room and board and so on,” Kyle Rose, Director of Financial Aid, said. “The parents, or whoever the designated survivor of the student is, will get that money back from WSC. So a deceased student will only have to pay for the time they were with us.”

As far as loans that are granted through the federal government go, they are forgiven if the student who took them out dies.

All loan debt owed to the government disappears after receipt of a death certificate and other pertinent documentation of a death.

Loans taken out through private lenders are another story, however. It all depends on the particular lender, but most private loans are not forgiven if the student dies. Instead, the debt is transferred to the co-signer, usually a parent, and becomes their responsibility.

Most college students do not think that they need life insurance, but if they are accruing a large amount of debt through credit cards or student loans, a life insurance policy might not be a bad idea.

Even if a student does not have any debt at all, the cost of an average funeral runs about $10,000 and is only getting more expensive. Even a small life insurance policy can take care of many expenses a family is faced with during an unexpected death.

The problem is that most young people are not planning on dying anytime soon—but who is? Most people think that considering one’s mortality is a macabre thing to do, but when a person is doing it to ensure that their loved ones are taken care of, it can’t be all that morbid.