News of student deaths a necessity

By Editorial Board

Quinn Kyles, a sophomore radio major, died in a tragic car accident in Indiana on Dec. 22, 2014, according to a Dec. 24 Chicago Tribune article. The college did not announce Kyles’ death until the afternoon of Jan. 8, and the announcement only notified the Radio Department of the student’s death, not the Columbia community at large. The announcement was short and simple, with little said of Kyles. 

Regardless of whether the campus was closed, Columbia’s administration dropped the ball. Columbia, a college that prides itself in its diverse and vibrant community, lost a student, and the minimal efforts made by the college’s administration speak to the necessity of a published, public student death policy.

Dozens of links to student death policies from colleges across the country are easily accessible online. Search the words “death” or “suicide” in Columbia’s Residence Life or student handbook and few references are found. Death, suicide and depression are glossed over—or ignored completely—in publications that are meant to guide students through college life. 

Many things occur behind the scenes when a student dies, and the administration works closely with the family of the deceased to determine what information should  be disseminated, but not having a  public policy or procedure for administration to consistently adhere to can leave students in the dark when one of their peers has died.

Counseling services and the extension of counseling hours should be a priority when announcing a student death. As a group, students should determine whether counselors should visit with their class rather than leaving it up to the discretion of the faculty. Grief affects everyone differently, but having a structured support system provided by the school could help unite the college, especially since death can be so isolating.

According to the American Public Health Association’s 2011 study titled “Leading causes of mortality among American college students at 4-year institutions,” suicide and vehicular accidents are the two leading causes of death among 18–24-year-olds in college. Although student deaths are rare—the study says for every 100,000 students there are six to seven deaths—these deaths should never be treated lightly.

It is not for the college to decide who may or may not care about the death of a fellow student. Each student death should be treated with professionalism, respect and tact. Students should not find out that the person they sat next to in “Writing & Rhetoric I” has died from outside news sources. 

Columbia’s administration has an obligation to the college community to publish clearly outlined policies and procedures in the event of the death of a student, whether the death occurs on or off campus. The number of friends a student had, the grades a student had or even the department the student was in should not affect the timeliness or content of an announcement of their death. Sensitivity to the family’s wishes should be the top priority, but to pick and choose how and what information is given to the student body is negligent. No student’s death should be treated  differently than another student’s death. The Columbia community should be made aware of every current student’s death because no loss should go unrecognized.