By: Bryant Lopez, Follow South Jersey Intern
GLASSBORO, N.J. — Rowan University announced in an email sent to every student via Rowan Announcer on Sept. 24, 2023 that on Sept. 23, a Rowan student had passed away.
The email was titled “Student passed away yesterday” and said that a resident of Holly Pointe Commons passed away and to keep the student and family in your thoughts and respect their privacy. The email added the phone number of the Wellness Center and a hyperlink to the counseling in the Wellness Center.
Much was made about the announcement of the student’s death. There was not much information that was released after the death of the student. It is still unknown to Rowan’s students and staff the cause of death and where the student died. This caused a reaction from The Whit, Rowan’s school newspaper, to write an editorial to discuss how the situation was handled.
The cause of death is still unknown but still alarms many as this would mark the sixth student death in four years. The last known suicide was on Dec. 29, 2022, during the winter break. During 2019, there were three suicides in two months that involved Rowan students.
Joe Talucci is a high school friend of the Rowan student who passed away on Sept. 23. Talucci found out that his friend died when a friend of his heard a rumor that his friend had died at Rowan. Talucci was unhappy with how Rowan responded to the news of death.
“I thought it was frustrating,” said Talucci. ”In some ways, I wish that they had said nothing at all because it was clear that the family wasn’t ready to talk about it, number one. I don’t know what good exactly the announcement did. Like as an acknowledgment, it completely failed to lower student concerns, and their mention of, ‘Hey, the Wellness center exists if you need it,’ came off to me as I don’t know how to put it. It didn’t feel good.”
The Wellness Center is a fully integrated health and wellness facility for Rowan students. The services that they provide are Student Health Services (SHS), Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS), Alcohol and Other Drugs Services (AOD) Emergency Medical Services (EMS), Healthy Campus Initiatives (HCI) and Shreier Family Pet Therapy Program.
The Wellness Center currently has 15 full-time licensed counselors, according to Amy Hoch, the assistant director of the Wellness Center. She states that they train professionals in psychology and social work. There are three pre-doctoral interns and five practicum students, who also provide therapy to students.
Hoch states that one of the biggest obstacles for the Wellness Center is to spread more awareness of all the services that Wellness Center provides to students.
“I think that’s our number one obstacle,” said Hoch. “We have done focus groups with students asking like, what’s the best way to get, you know, kind of information to you? We have done surveys. We do surveys after all of our services, but a lot of that implies that you’re walking in here for service for us to get that feedback from you [the students].”
The past year, the Wellness Center decided to put someone in the position of being the communications person, Brittany Auleta, to get the information out.
”She takes care of all of our websites. She’s in contact with organizations, and departments to do targeted communication to them,” said Hoch.
Another difficulty that the Wellness Center faces is space. Currently, the Wellness Center is at Winans Hall.
“The students are telling us that they really want to be in person with people,” said Hoch. “And we can’t do that to the full extent possible because of the classroom space that is utilized here in the wellness center. And I think originally, when this was converted into a wellness center, the thought was, you know, having classrooms here would generate students walking in and there would be less stigma if there were classrooms here and health and counseling services. And I think actually what students have said to us is that it’s actually a bit of the opposite.”
They also have a second building on Victoria Street but this also comes with difficulties.
“While that offers space for counselors to be in, it also means that we have to divide staff time, support staff time across both places,” said Hoch. “It means that it might take extra time for somebody who’s running a group here because that space doesn’t really have room for groups. They have to go between those office spaces. And if efficiency-wise, we lose time that could be going to clinical hours.”
Scott Woodside, the director of the Wellness Center, states that investments have been made at the Wellness Center.
“When I started 11 years ago, I believe we had four counselors,” said Woodside. “So yeah, it’s a big difference. And the investments, not just in counseling. I mean, we’ve made lots of investments in other ways, too.”
Woodside states that when Rowan is aware of a student’s death, they respond in person and begin a process called coding the campus. They immediately work with the student that was involved and any close contacts that are involved and offer support to them. They work closely with the Dean of Students and with any responders such as police to debrief them.
“It’s terrible,” said Woodside. “We feel terrible when we do lose any member of our community. But I’m confident that we do respond in a way that follows best practices and has trauma-informed at the center of it.”
“We know that all of our actions have results, but there’s no way anyone can tell you can prevent a suicide from happening or death from happening to any of our community,” said Woodside. “That’s an unrealistic statement to say, but we can say that we are reaching as many people as we can and protecting as many people as we can.”
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