Coleman: University response to student death was balanced

Kehley Coleman, Staff Columnist

The death of a student is, of course, never easy for a school to cope with. It is a loss that impacts everyone on campus, whether they personally knew the student or not, and it is often difficult to determine how best to reach out to the community in light of such a tragic event.

Nevertheless, in light of the death of Justine Boyle, a first-year student, Case Western Reserve University has done well at balancing compassion for those closest to Justine with the concerns of the broader community.

I never knew Boyle, so I can’t truly say I was personally affected by the news of her death in the way that her friends and family have been. In fact, I wasn’t even aware of what had happened until the second email sent by Vice President of Student Affairs Lou Stark. It arrived the day following the initial communication of Boyle’s loss to the student body in The Daily, an email which I had missed.

I was initially concerned that The Daily, a publication which generally features articles detailing on-campus research and social events, was selected as the medium for reporting such a tragic event. The fact that notification of the death of a student shared space with everyday news struck me as in somewhat poor taste. An incident so personal to the campus community deserves a separate email announcement honoring the student’s memory. There shouldn’t be links to information about upcoming yoga events or swimming championships accompanying the news since it might be viewed as detracting from the sincerity of the university’s expression of sorrow at this loss.

Not only that, but I also worried about the effectiveness of The Daily at actually delivering this important news to campus. I know many people who do not consistently read The Daily (including myself) who missed this installment. Given the sheer number of emails students receive on a daily basis and the fact that The Daily becomes so routine, students may not find it urgent to open the message as soon as they receive the notification. It may be a period of hours or even days before they do go back and read it if they even do at all.

I was glad, however, to receive the follow-up email sent by the university the day after this initial announcement, which clarified the situation. It explained that publishing an article in The Daily the day following the event is standard university practice to prevent the news from being widely spread before those closest to the deceased have been notified. This was perfectly understandable; after all, it is most important for those most deeply affected by the loss to learn about and share this tragic news in the most compassionate way possible.

I did still wonder at the choice of The Daily as the method of first communicating with the campus at this time—might a separate email from a university official, like this follow-up, before publishing an article be a better way to inform students? But I completely understand the need to wait to broadly communicate with the student body and was grateful for the university’s explanation of this decision.

I was very appreciative to receive this follow-up email so soon after the initial one. I found that the university’s explanation of their protocol helped me make sense of the way the news had been reported to the community and provided reassurance that the university was handling Justine’s death in a thoughtful and compassionate manner and were being attentive to the concerns of the broader community.

Overall, from what I know of the event, the university has handled an extremely tragic and difficult situation fairly well. The event was communicated to the campus as soon as was respectful to do so. In light of concerns regarding the way this communication occurred, the university responded quickly and clearly. The university has also provided information on how to contact counselors around the clock within both the original article and the follow-up email—the most crucial step in any tragedy of this sort—to help any students who are struggling during this difficult time.

While there is no easy way to deal with a loss of this sort, the university has done well at providing the necessary information and resources for students to understand and come to terms with the event.

Kehley Coleman is a first-year student planning on majoring in chemical engineering. When not in class, she can typically be found reading trashy teen fiction or rehearsing for something.