The recent deaths of several students who attended UM-Dearborn at the time of their passing has sparked conversation among students on whether or not the University is obligated to publicly acknowledge their death.
Before delving further, let me preface my position by saying that Dr. Amy Finley, the Dean of Students, sent out college-wide emails last Wednesday regarding this issue.
The emails read: “Recently, many in our UM-Dearborn community have experienced grief, with the loss of peers, family members, colleagues, and friends. To provide support during this difficult time of loss, the Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) team invites all students to a new grief support group.”
My response to this difficult assertion is that it depends.
Acknowledging students’ death is entirely different from identifying and naming students who have passed away. For reasons unknown, it may be at the request of the University to not infringe itself on the grief experienced by family members and friends afflicted by these students’ passing. It may also be at the discretion of the families to deny any request for their loved one’s information to be dispensed in such a manner, unless it was already a news story.
However, if for example- and God forbid- there was a school shooting that took place on campus, the school would absolutely have an obligation to publicly acknowledge and honor those victims. They would be held liable for their deaths because they did not ensure student safety: one of its core tenets.
But, if students who passed away that just so happened to attend the University at the time, and their deaths were not coincidental to the University failing to ensure student safety, then it would be totally unfair and unjust to pin the responsibility on the University to publicly dispense information surrounding those students’ passing.
The obligation is on the family members and those closely impacted to acknowledge and honor their legacies. However, the University has not attempted to thwart students from holding candlelight vigils or paying homage to fallen students.
As previously mentioned, the University has indirectly acknowledged the loss of certain students and has encouraged anyone grieving to seek counseling options offered on campus. The University is unable to contribute any monetary support to any families of those students. At most, the University can only offer social-emotional support services.
Now, I’ve heard several analogies comparing how the University disseminates college-wide emails regarding sexual assault, larceny and other henious activity that may or may not involve students of the University. The implication behind these analogies is that the University does not care about its students that have passed away.
The University has been a model of consistency with how it chooses to disseminate sensitive information. The University does not name or identify anyone that may or may not have been assaulted, robbed, harassed or have passed away.
Personally, I reject that notion. The University and the faculty absolutely care about its students. The school invests deeply into student success initiatives and prides itself on creating a family-like atmosphere to be inclusive for all students. But when it comes to personal matters like death, there are many variables and nuances involved that aren’t as easy to discuss, due to permission from families, and the level of information ascertained from ongoing investigations.
At the end of the day, it is an academic institution. According to its mission statement, the refinement of academia is at the epicenter of its beliefs.
Mission statement: “University of Michigan-Dearborn is an inclusive, student-focused institution. We are committed to excellence in teaching, learning, research and scholarship, as well as access, affordability and metropolitan impact.”
They are not a news organization or a police unit. Even still, I do believe that the school cares deeply about its students. But ultimately, if we as students want to honor those students, we can. The school is not holding any of us back from doing so. We can remember our fallen peers by organizing a candlelight vigil, similar to Take Back the Night, or any other form of peaceful assembly. We can hang symbols of remembrance for the students, as similar to what the City of Berkley did for Tyler Wingate.
Lastly, and most importantly, we have to remember that the sum of people’s lives are more than just the college they attended. We cannot just acknowledge Kabria Arnold, Raven Cason, and D’Andre Brown as “UM-Dearborn students.” They meant much more to their family and friends. Their entire existence from childhood until now was based around what they meant to those who were closest to them. They just happened to pass at the time of attending UM-Dearborn.
Hopefully that aspect does not become lost in all of this.
May they rest well.