Musings about academe in haphazard fashion.
This semester was a particularly challenging one, and one I hope that is never repeated. One of my U.S. History survey students passed away under questionable circumstances with the lean towards it having been a suicide.
This student had had some difficultly with financial aid and registration at the start of the semester and joined a few class periods late; but, that is not that unusual. This student was friendly, polite, and sat front and center for each period of attendance, which is normally a sign of good things to come. But, then, after a month of classes, the student never returned; this also, sadly, is not that unusual. There are always anywhere from one to two students who just go AWOL and I often never know what happened. Finances? Job? Family issues? Since I only have email communication and no way to call or visit personally, if they do not contact me, that’s it.
So, it came as a shock to find that in our student housing there had been an apparent suicide, and it was my student. I will always wonder, “Could I have emailed just one email more to make a difference?” What else could I have done? I had never had the student before in class and the student was not a History major. The student was not a problem in class and had not submitted enough assignments to warrant a “CARE” report to Student Life. But, I will always feel guilty and wonder if there were anything more that I could have done that might have prevented the tragedy.
The worst part was the not knowing. After being contacted via email from higher administration that he had passed, there was no further information. No service. No campus-wide notice for classmates and friends. No address to send a card. Nothing. I had to request multiple times to obtain an address weeks after the tragedy, purchased a card and some students signed and I mailed it. I was told the university had sent flowers. I was told if there were to be any service that I would be notified. Nothing happened. No response to the card. No notification of any service. A horrible Augusta Chronicle front page article about the investigation in callous impersonal language. Then nothing. It was as if the student never existed.
Another month passed and a bit more time and the end of the semester came. I had pushed thoughts of all of this to the back of my head, or so I thought. While opening the class list and inputting final grades, it was there. Just a stark reminder, but again so callous and impersonal. The student’s name was still on the class roll, with a date, and the word, “DECEASED”. I can’t describe accurately my emotional state afterward.
Students, know that your professors care. We wouldn’t be in our profession if we did not. Sometimes if might appear that we don’t, because life gets in the way and makes us hurried to cover material in class, rushed to get to a faculty meeting or our next class on campus, or simply in a mood entirely unrelated to your presence and instead a product of our own out-of-school lives. But, we care and you are our extended family in many cases. If you reach out in need, we will be there. We are not trained to always know what to do or how to help, but we are very well trained to know where to go to find those answers and get you to where you need to be. Just ask. One word. “Help”.