GV community responds to student deaths

Grand Valley’s Counseling Center is located on the second floor of the Student Services Center. 
 GVL / Andrew Nyhof

Grand Valley’s Counseling Center is located on the second floor of the Student Services Center.
GVL / Andrew Nyhof

Mary Racette and Audrey Whitaker

In the wake of two student deaths at Grand Valley State University in the last month, members of the GVSU community may be struggling with the loss of a student, classmate, friend or with the trauma of a fellow GVSU student.

While the news may seem unprecedented to the GVSU community, acting vice provost for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Aaron Haight said it is something the university has worked hard to prepare support and resources for.

“In a situation like this, we definitely connect with a family, we try to identify any friends or student connections on campus, and we want to make sure that we provide outreach and support to them,” Haight said. “Every situation is different, so there isn’t necessarily one way to handle a situation, but our main focus is making sure that family friends are getting the support and resources that they need.”

Haight said that the university works carefully to provide the community with the information they need to feel safe while respecting the privacy of the student’s family.

“The number one thing is making sure that family is okay with how we communicate,” Haight said. “The other thing is, is depending on a situation, we might communicate with a residence hall where the student resided, sometimes things are making a more of an impact in the broader community so sometimes we feel like we might need to make a broader statement.”

Haight said that while President Mantella has sent emails to the GVSU community regarding student deaths this semester, that is not standard practice for GVSU.

“The President has sent out a few emails this year; that’s not necessarily been our standard practice,” Haight said. “So we’re actually right now looking at what should and shouldn’t we be doing and communicating.”

While vigils and memorials have been organized in the past, nothing has been organized this semester. Haight said that while events services may work with students to organize such events, it is up to students to take the lead.

“They are welcome to you know, work with Event Services, in Kirkoff and plan that, but we do not do that as a university,” Haight said. “At one point in time, I believe we did an annual remembrance ceremony.” 

Haight said that a university committee had evaluated the practice, however, COVID-19 restrictions put an end to the practice.

The GVSU Counseling Center offers numerous resources available to students to tend to their mental health. Resources vary depending on a student’s needs and preferences. They range from individual counseling appointments to self-guided mini-courses.  

When a student reaches out to the Counseling Center the first step is an initial screening with a counselor. This appointment will determine what the most effective service will be. Associate Director Pam Miller said they try to conduct these screening appointments promptly following the initial request. Usually, it happens within a day or two of the student reaching out. 

If individual counseling appointments are what works best for a student, then their first appointment will be virtual through telehealth. The student can then decide if they feel more comfortable talking to someone in person while wearing a mask, or through their computer. An affordance of telehealth appointments is the ability to see each other’s faces without a mask. 

The Counseling Center also offers group sessions that range in format and topic. Among these group counseling sessions is the grief support group. 

Emergency services are for students who have an urgent need to talk to a professional. Students can drop into the office or call for immediate help.

If a student feels more comfortable starting off with a self-guided workshop, there are various videos on the Counseling Center website that students can work their way through on their own time. Grief is one of the topics which is included in these workshops. However, the website stresses that these modules are not a replacement for therapy.

The many resources available from the Counseling Center speak to the different approaches to coping. Miller said students handle grief in different ways depending on their relationship with the person who has passed. 

“Self-care is such an excellent tool,” Miller said. “When I think of the experience of grief I think of a few things. One, you need to give yourself space to grieve, whatever that means for you.”

The number one self-care tip that Miller gives when you lose someone is giving yourself time and space to grieve. This could include journaling or taking the time to think of the person you have lost every day to reflect and honor them.