UH death notification policy questioned by faculty member

UH death notification policy questioned by faculty member
Published: Aug. 21, 2015 at 10:17 PM HST|Updated: Aug. 21, 2015 at 11:04 PM HST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

MANOA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A University of Hawaii professor said the recent death of a man on the Manoa campus underscores a problem that needs fixing because the university does not officially notify staff, faculty and students when someone dies at the school.

Last weekend's tragedy puts UH in the middle of a nationwide discussion about dealing with death on campuses. UH officials said despite what some other schools do, they've decided an email blast to the entire school community is not the best approach.

Tommy Bennett, 24, who was not a U-H student, fell to his death Sunday from a 14th-story UH dorm ledge after he tried to stop another man from committing suicide.

While UH spokes people gave information to the media about the fatal accident, UH did not email its faculty, staff and students with details of what happened as some other universities do in cases like this.

"They don't communicate to the entire community in such a way that one senses compassion and that there are resources available," said UH English Professor Susan Schultz.  She said she's speaking up because last September, she was surprised when she walked into one of her English classes.

"I was confronted by a student who was too traumatized to actually be in the classroom.  And he told me he had witnessed a student falling from the dorms to his death," Schultz said.  "So I took him to the counseling center right away.  Apparently, he got an appointment four days later."

She said UH Manoa should email its entire school community with basic details of any death and information how to seek counseling, a practice of some other universities.

UH spokesman Dan Meisenzahl said, "Across the country, it's done a variety of ways but we think that this is the best way."

Meisenzahl said UH contacts people closest to the person who died and offers them counseling.

"And then immediately contacting everybody who has come in contact with that student on a regular basis, whether it's on their dorm floor, of course their roommates, their classes, their professors, contacting the dean of their school," Meisenzahl said.

But UH does not announce deaths to everyone on campus because some families want details of their loved one's death to remain private.

"Death is a very personal thing for families, for friends.  We really have to respect the wishes of someone's family when they're in a situation like that, whether it's suicide or natural causes," Meisenzahl said.

Schultz said, "It still happened and people will hear rumors about it or read sometimes incorrect information on social media such as Facebook."

She said UH could still make an initial announcement without releasing the person's name or cause of death.

"You can simply say there was a tragedy on campus this past Sunday, we just want you to know that we're investigating it and if you've experienced trauma over this, there is a counseling center," Schultz said.

Some universities have very different policies, even announcing why the student or faculty member died and disclosing if they killed themselves.

Copyright 2015 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.