It’s an issue that every Director of Student Services worries about and something that, unfortunately we have all dealt with (or that at some stage we will deal with).
A really well structured session facilitated by Sam Dale (Deputy Academic Registrar at Durham University) opened up the opportunity for colleagues in the room to explore how to respond in such tragic and emotive situations, when the need for sensitivity and timeliness of absolute importance.
Consensus in the room was that getting our response and support spot on, i.e. matching line for line our Student death policies, is perhaps too much to expect and that in fact, such an approach fails to consider the particularites of each tragedy we are faced with. Indeed whilst we may all require a piece of paper to work from, in such instances there is perhaps a need for us to lead staff in taking a more nuanced and flexible approach when responding to a critical incident.
What we can do is communicate clear messages, advise staff on where their roles start and finish, provide relevant support for all parties (students, family, staff and ourselves) and consider the interconnectedness of our Universities and the very many individuals and communities affected by a student, friend or colleague dying.
Knowing who to involve and where to get support with the process was viewed as being of huge importance – a cue here to ensure that Chaplains and Students’ Unions are involved to play a role in supporting a collective, caring and compassionate institutional response.
A really difficult topic, but an important one for us to continually talk about.