Editor’s Note: ASU Chancellor Sheri Everts released this statement on Thursday. It is posted on the Office of the Chancellor website and sent to the Appalachian Community.
Dear Members of the Appalachian Community:
Feb. 6, 2015. We have experienced many tragedies this academic year, and the loss of students last semester and this semester has been very hard on our entire community. The loss of student life is something we would like to address specifically. There has been much discussion in the media and on social media about numbers and causes of recent student deaths. Speculation has led to assumptions and generated many questions, so while Appalachian does not typically release the cause of death in individual cases involving students, we want to share the following in order to ensure our community is accurately informed:
This academic year, Appalachian has experienced nine currently enrolled student deaths. Seven have occurred at off-campus locations and two have occurred on campus. Three deaths were the result of unrelated motor vehicle accidents, two were confirmed as suicide, and the cause of death for four has not been provided to the university. It is important to reiterate that there has been no indication of foul play associated with the loss of student life.
Out of respect for their families and those closest to the students we have lost, we are not releasing a list of names or linking the causes of death to individuals. It is important to note that under State law, the university must rely on a medical examiner to determine an official cause of death, and when a death occurs off campus the university may not be informed of the cause. From working with students’ families and others affected by a loss of life, we learn much that alerts us to areas of concern and greatly informs how we provide health and safety support, as well as grief support and resources, for our community.
At Appalachian, we will not choose to define these students by a number, or by a cause of death. We have learned about unique contributions each person brought to our community, and the legacies they leave are all as individual as they were. Each person should be remembered for the contributions they made in life.
The Dean of Students office works with the families, friends and loved ones of students to help them cope with their grief. The loss of a family member, a friend, a classmate or a community member you didn’t know is a personal journey, one that can be very difficult. We ask for your sensitivity and compassion for the families, loved ones and friends of our students who have died. There are some circumstances you will not know; please understand that the professionals who are in contact with affected families are diligently working to provide them with the answers they need.
Engaging in speculation could be unintentionally hurtful. It is our responsibility as a community to hold one another accountable as these discussions take place, and make sure they are sensitive, responsible and respectful. If there is an immediate campus safety concern, we will always provide you the information you need to know.
Parents and families, staff, faculty and alumni have asked us, “How can we help?” These communications, so full of genuine compassion, reflect the collective character of our community of Mountaineers. Here are some ways you can help:
The professional, dedicated and caring staff at the Counseling Center can provide students with support, within a confidential setting, in coping with grief, stress or other concerns. The center is located on the first floor of the Miles Annas Building. Hours are Monday – Friday, 8:00am – 5:00pm, and you can reach them by phone at 828-262-3180. Should you call after hours, University Police will connect you with someone who can help.
While the Counseling Center is a very important resource, there are many other resources available to help you. Over the past several months, you have received communications directing you to the Appalachian Cares website. This is because it provides the most up-to-date, comprehensive list of campus, local, regional and national resources; it is available at any time; and many of the hotlines are available 24 hours a day. Additionally, always know you can call the Dean of Students office at 828-262-8284, which can provide tailored resources and assistance as needed. Consider contacting the Dean of Students office about becoming an “Appalachian Prevention Advocate,” which will provide you with training for peer-to-peer suicide prevention, drug and alcohol abuse prevention, and sexual assault prevention. Above all, take care of yourself.
For parents and families:
Don’t underestimate the power of communication. Family is often the most important resource a student can have during difficult times. While meaningful, thoughtful discussions, particularly ones emphasizing an understanding of the resources available to your student, are very important, small thoughtful “touches” like a phone call or even a “thinking of you” text can make a big difference. You can find specific information about how to talk with and help your students cope with grief or stress here. If you have concerns about the wellbeing of your student, the Dean of Students office can work with you to develop a specific plan of support.
For faculty and staff:
We have heard from so many of you who want to help our students. You can:
- Spend some time in class talking about their concerns. Your conversations may lead to them finding help for themselves or someone they know.
- Encourage your students to communicate with their parents, friends or other support networks. Communication is critically important to processing and healing during times of emotional stress.
- Don’t hesitate to contact the Dean of Students office at 828-262-8284 or if you have questions or concerns about a student. We have developed resources specifically to help faculty and staff recognize and support students in distress. You can also contact the Dean of Students office for a desk reference folder containing this information.
- Utilize the Early Intervention Team if you are concerned about a student.
- If you think a student might be troubled, but aren’t sure, err on the side of caution. If you contact the Early Intervention Team or Dean of Students office, you aren’t “turning in” a student – you are simply putting the student in a position to access personalized assistance and resources.
- Visit the Appalachian Cares website for campus, local, regional and national resources and hotlines.
- If you are experiencing stress or need to talk with someone yourself, utilize the free counseling services available for faculty and staff.
For alumni and friends:
In everyday conversations and online, you are holding people accountable for speculation and comments that are insensitive to the families and loved ones who are in mourning. This is not only respectful for those who are struggling with loss, but also critical for the health of the most fragile members of our community. Your fellow Mountaineers in Boone appreciate the support. It means more than you might realize. When people ask you about Appalachian, feel free to share what you have learned in this email.
For everyone, know that as an institution of higher learning, Appalachian is dedicated to providing evidence-based resources and training to our students, faculty and staff. To the more than 1,000 students, parents, faculty and staff who have received in-person and online suicide prevention training, thank you. To the 745 faculty and staff, and 1,809 students who have participated in in-person sexual assault/interpersonal violence training, thank you. To the 1,557 incoming freshmen and transfer students who took part in online sexual assault prevention training, thank you. Your caring and engaged leadership is making a difference on our campus every day.
Finally, take time to listen. Sometimes the simplest acts are the most powerful. To everyone who has read this message, thank you for everything you have done, are doing and will do to support our community.
Sheri N. Everts
Interim Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor
Dean of Students