A moment of silence at each of our commencement ceremonies was an appropriate reminder of a student life tragically ended in a break-in, turned violent, at a nearby off-campus house. Our entire community was mourning this tragic death but at the same time there was a significant student population, and their families and friends, that also wanted to celebrate their graduation. Both mourning and celebration were appropriate feelings and many of us felt them at the same time. After extensive discussions, our university president decided to open each ceremony with the minute of silence and that then we would follow our normal commencement protocol. It was, in my opinion, exactly the right decision, respectful of both the good news and the bad news that permeated our community.
At the same time as these discussions were taking place, we were also providing extensive extra counseling support for our students most impacted by the death of a close friend. We also had two coming together memorial events, one on the Friday the tragedy happened and another on the Saturday. The opportunity to grieve together with the extra support was necessary for all of us to come to grips with this profound tragedy and loss.
I get asked on a regular basis by parents about the availability of housing, both on-campus as well as off-campus rentals in the nearby community. Both are readily available. But my answer to this question is always loud and clear – undergraduates should choose from the on-campus options. It is true that students have more total freedom if they live in community rental housing off-campus. There is more of the ability for students to do what they want, when they want, if they are living independently. But as a parent and as an educator, I don’t think this is in the best interest of most of our undergraduates. Some supervision, which in reality is very limited, provides the extra cushion of support and security that can make all the difference in the success of the student.
Some students will nevertheless choose to live off campus. If a student lives in the nearby community, what can we do to help make that student more secure and successful? We can and do provide a highly experienced student affairs person who works with both the off-campus student population and the surrounding community to be sure that each constituency knows and understands the needs of the other. Our public safety officers can also regularly drive around surrounding community areas and provide other limited support to the off-campus population. But they have no jurisdiction and no legal authority to do more than that. The level of safety and security provided on-campus cannot be replicated in almost any off-campus setting. We should and must, however, do whatever we can in support of this population and the community.
None of us every want to go through another experience like this. The feeling of loss and the feeling of tragedy remains as does our commitment to see if there is more that we can do. All of us need to share this commitment. We all owe it to all of our students.