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Home / US / 9 student deaths at USC Alarm students and administrators

9 student deaths at USC Alarm students and administrators

A series of student deaths at USC this semester has sparked concern among the campus community and demand for answers.

The last death occurred on Monday afternoon when a 27-year-old man was found dead in a free apartment campus. The cause of death is being investigated. The man was a USC student, university officials said Tuesday.

Death comes days after leading USC administrators sent letters to students and parents recognizing the death toll among some 47,500 undergraduate and graduate students.

University officials confirmed this week that nine students died between the end of August and the beginning of November. Not all causes of death have been identified, but according to the authorities, three were suicides. In a note to the campus community, USC President Carol Folt and other administrators wrote: "The students' losses are devastating and heartbreaking for all of us."

"There is much speculation about the causes of these and most deaths attributed to suicide" it says in the letter. "That's not right."

Winston Crisp, vice president of the University of Student Affairs, said he and other administrators had decided to act swiftly and as transparently as possible to suppress rumors of death and encourage students to do so Remember resources are available when someone needs help.

School administrators did a balancing act and tried to share appropriate information with students without overloading them with unnecessary details. Although not all deaths are due to suicide, the lack of information has led to speculation among parents and students and increased concern.

The broad range of reactions in the USC community following the death notices highlights the difficult and delicate situation campus officials are experiencing.

Crisp said that some students who did not know about the deaths described the latest information and unknown details as emotional. Some families thanked for receiving the emails. Others expressed dismay at a lack of information. And again others believe that the information provided so far has made matters worse.

"We know our students are looking for answers," said Sarah Van Orman, chief health officer of USC Student Health. "It is important that when we hear misinformation, we communicate what we know."

The first death this semester was reported at the end of August, two days before the beginning of the lesson. Incoming freshman Matthew Olson, 1

8, was hit and killed on the 110 freeway while walking between two FasTrak trails.

The series of deaths has hit the campus community hard. In a typical school year, according to Van Orman, the university killed four to fifteen students. Six were reported throughout the year last year.

President of the Student Union Trenton Stone, a junior from Salt Lake City, said that all eight members of his executive board, including him, knew at least one of the persons who had died in the last three months.

"It was definitely a very tough semester for us," said Stone. "There is a lot going on and everyone wonders: what can we do?"

Stone said the student government is planning a community event where people come together to support each other, along with health professionals. Stone was on campus among former students' deaths, but the number of recent deaths in a short time is particularly staggering, he said.

Natalie Bettendorf, junior and chief editor of the Daily Trojan, published an article on Monday's deaths and attempts to strengthen mental health resources. Bettendorf, who developed a newsroom wellness initiative to ensure that employees receive support in reporting on difficult events, said the newspaper has been discussing student deaths over the past year.

"Students ask for answers from the university." She said. "There is a sense of desperation within the student body: there were too many deaths and not enough answers."

Crisp and Van Orman said that the problem is evolving and that plans to adequately address student concerns are evaluated in real time At this point, administrators continue to point students to on-campus psychiatric services and consider adding more counselors.

"There is no standard for the work of universities," said Jonathan Singer, associate professor at Loyola University of Chicago and the president of the Washington, DC-based American Assn. Of Suicidology.

Singer said universities had historically exchanged conservative information, partly for fear of contagion, with one death triggering another, Singer said all adolescents are at risk of infection, because they are more susceptible to Gleich

An employee at the University's Advisory and Psychiatric Center, who did not give his name, said there were 45 counselors and four counselors in the staff. He said the number of students looking for services has increased since the USC sent their e-mails about recent deaths.

On Tuesday afternoon, 13 students were waiting to be seen. About 30 counselors and two psychiatrists were present. The center works by appointment unless a student has an urgent need. Non-urgent appointments take place within 48 hours, the employee said.

While the university continues to remind students of the resources available, there is a lack of school effort. Morgan Spencer, a junior, said she was constantly disappointed with how the USC had tackled the deaths on campus.

"Every time something happens, I receive an e-mail from the president's office with blank condolences," she said. "I'd like to receive more feedback from the new president's office to find out why there were at least three student suicides."

Friends who used counseling services told her they needed to wait weeks for an appointment. She believes that the university should conduct a campus-wide mental health survey.

In a July issue of The Times, the Dean of Religious Life at USC Varun Soni wrote about the "loneliness crisis" on the college campus.

"It seems I experience more stress, anxiety and depression every year and more students in the crisis on campus."

Dr. Paul Nestadt, a professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University, who is studying suicide, said three campus suicides in a semester would roughly equal the annual national suicide rate for college-age people: 14 out of 100,000. He pointed out that national suicide rates have risen by 30% over the last two decades, with leaps even higher among college-aged students. He led the universities in overcoming these sensitive issues.

"You are certainly in limbo," he said. "The whole nation has to fight with it. … We need to learn more and more as these rates rise, how we can best handle them.

He said dealing with these deaths will be a learning experience for the USC – an experience that other universities may value in the future.

Two deceased students attended the School of Cinematic Arts. A faculty member said the faculty and staff at the school met with counselors on Monday evening to discuss how they could help their students. She said that last year's School of Cinematic Arts had been seeking more support for students struggling with fears.

"It really does affect everyone if something like that happens," she said.

The Past A few days have been a struggle for Sunday Smith and her film school cohort. Over the past two weeks, students have been notified by e-mail of the deaths of two peers.

They needed time to worry, the senior said, adding that the students had trouble sleeping and focusing.

Things should be paused and the school should allow students to take a break, but everything is still moving, "she said. "Of course, you can not go ahead if you do not take the time to mourn."

In the past week, one of her teachers allowed students to spend some time at the end of the lesson to discuss how they deal with the problem deaths. Smith said the conversation helped.

"There were a lot of deaths around me." , A caller is connected to a certified crisis center in the area where the call is made. The call is free and confidential.

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