We (your authors) teach at a large public university in California. We have over 25,000 students enrolled. We don’t know them all. But, we interact with quite a few everyday and those days turn into weeks and months, semesters and years. This week, there has been a tragedy for one of our students. One of the students in my department, who had been missing since early April, was found and confirmed deceased yesterday (it appears that the student may have taken his own life). We were notified by the Chair of my department. It was heartbreaking. It was devastating. It was shocking. It was tragic. It was all of these loaded words you can imagine.
Today, students began visiting my office hours to talk about their knowledge of the deceased student. “I sat next to him in class.” “I took notes for him.” “I had talked to him.” “He told me he wasn’t feeling well.” Students cried and confessed that they sometimes felt the student wasn’t taking class seriously — consistent absences, poor scores on assignments, etc. Now those same students felt guilt. They felt shame for how they had judged a classmate who clearly was in crisis.
So, here are some thoughts: you are not at fault if someone else causes harm to him/herself. There are many resources on campus for processing grief and trauma (find your campus counseling center) take advantage of it! Going forward, consider your classmates’ complaints from various perspectives. If you hear of or see a classmate in distress, tell someone — the professor, for example. It is NOT your job to fix or find a solution for the classmate, but reaching out and letting a faculty know could help. It can’t hurt. Finally, sometimes we are all struggling on “an edge” of something — maybe school work is overwhelming us; maybe family obligations are weighing us down; maybe work is pushing hard on us. Whatever the situation, be aware that if you are already in a precarious position, the death of a classmate (or other tragic events that may not be directly related to you) can affect you adversely. Be prepared to seek help. Seek help earlier rather than later. Talk to someone today/now, not later. Most of the time, your university will have a counseling center that is available (either in person on by phone) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Don’t wait. If you are feeling overwhelmed, act now!
And, take care. You are doing a good job. You are juggling multiple responsibilities. It is NOT easy. But, there are people on your campus who will show concern and will care. Reach out.