Mourning together: On the College’s death notification policy

In the wake of the passing of Joshua Torres ’ 15, the College must reflect on how it engages its students when it receives tragic news. While the administration sends out death notices for retired faculty and staff as well as for current faculty, staff and students, it does not notify the student body of alumni deaths. The current policy fails to account for how recent alumni deaths affect the student body and, accordingly, must be amended student body.

Although the 2015 class agents notified their class of Torres’ death over email and the College publishes alumni obituaries, the current student body received no notification of his passing. The administration’s policy of not notifying students of all alumni deaths is a sensible one. Due to the College’s 224-year history, its alumni base includes many older graduates who regularly pass due to natural causes. It is implausible to expect the administration to notify the student body of the passing of every alum.

The death of a recent alum, though, strikes a chord with the student body. Many within the community may have known and connected with this individual.

Accordingly, the administration should send out death notices for alumni who graduated within the past four years. In this case, the deceased alum would still have ties to the community because their time at the College would have overlapped with some of its current students; their death would affect a portion of the student body. In all likelihood, some students still attending the College would care deeply about the deceased alum. It is only fitting that the College should recognize such a death and offer resources and support for grieving students.

This proposed policy change fits within the College’s existing approach to death notices for retired faculty members. The administration notifies the student body with all-campus emails when faced with the death of former faculty members who crossed paths with current students. Thus, the College should do the same for deceased alumni.

In the all-campus email including the death notice, the College should also identify resources for students who may need support during such a trying time. The Davis Center, Chaplains’ Office and Psychological Counseling Services could provide help to students in the wake of a recent alum’s death. The administration could also offer spaces for students to process the news and to support one another. Last August, the Chaplains’ Office did so in an all-campus email in the wake of the death of Leslie Brown, professor of history.

While the administration should seek to notify students in this way, these notices should require consent from the family of the recent alum. Additionally, the family should dictate the content of the all-campus email. Circumstances of death are private matters; the family should choose which details they are comfortable sharing with the student body.

In trying times, our roles as a community are to unite, support and lean on one another. When confronted with the death of a recent graduate, it is only fitting that the administration provide us with the opportunity to stand in solidarity as we grieve.

  • Helen

    Agreed — anyone who overlapped should get notified. (This includes alums of different class years, btw — I am ’16 and would have received neither of the proposed and existing emails.)