Editorial: In need of a closer look

On Sunday, the GW community endured the loss of its fifth student in as many months. In response to these tragedies, the University is forming a committee to evaluate how it handles and proactively addresses such situations. It is imperative that in this process the University thoroughly evaluates how well its Counseling Center reaches out to students contemplating suicide as well as provides resources and support to those directly affected by a student death.

The University must ensure it is doing absolutely everything it can to reach out to students who may be contemplating suicide or otherwise harming themselves. First, it should improve training for community facilitators to identify and reach out to troubled students. Only a psychologist can reasonably be expected to conclusively identify an individual suffering from depression, but a more intensive training program for CFs would enable them to inform the proper professionals about troubled students. Briefing residents on signs to look for in their roommates could also increase the likelihood of an individual seeking help. Additionally, faculty members should be urged – at the beginning of each semester – to encourage students concerned about their inability to complete an assignment to approach them during office hours. In the face of serious academic stresses, this knowledge might encourage a struggling student to reach out instead of channeling those feelings inward.

A variety of resources are already available to students suffering from depression, but it is questionable whether the University has done an adequate job of making students aware of them. To start, the University should hang signs with relevant information in well-traveled campus locations such as the Marvin and Academic centers, as well as residence halls. The University could also post prominent graphics and links on popular portal sites such as GWeb and GWired to direct visitors to the Counseling Center’s Web site. Better publicity of resources will increase the likelihood they will be utilized.

In the aftermath of a tragedy, rumors often permeate campus. While many students check The Hatchet’s Web site for pertinent information, the University must make sure that it makes the known facts available. Even though the University often posts such information to the GW News Center, it should also send out email alerts notifying the student body of the situation.

The University must also ensure its infrastructure to deal with tragedy is adequate. It should utilize University-wide information apparatuses such as the GW Info e-mail system to inform students of counselors’ availability. The Counseling Center should also make sure it follows up with grieving students even after the initial grieving period is over. Doing so will ensure students who are still dealing with feelings of grief do not fall through the cracks.

As part of the committee, the University Counseling Center should undergo a comprehensive review. During such an evaluation, the committee should consider whether or not funding for the Center is commensurate with its importance and look at whether its off-campus location deters students from visiting.

To fashion an effective committee, administrators should take great care in selecting who should sit on the committee. The University should – in addition to bringing a variety of mental health professionals on board – bring many students into the fold. Adding students who have recently dealt with loss along with student leaders will ensure that the University gains the perspective necessary to improve the quality of service.

No one can reasonably be expected to prevent every tragedy from happening. Hopefully, however, this committee can make sure that the proper resources and institutions are in place to minimize their frequency as well as making sure the University is best able to serve grieving students.

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