10 people have died at Rowan this year. Why school says it can’t tell you more
GLASSBORO — Hours after a student fell from the roof of a parking garage, Rowan University hosted a meeting on Thursday night about 10 deaths of members of the university community this semester and its wellness center.
The meeting came as comments built up on Twitter and elsewhere online from current and former students, suggesting the school doesn't do enough to help students in crisis and prevent suicides. Some of those comments suggested the incident at the parking garage as a suicide attempt, but the school told New Jersey 101.5 it couldn't comfirm that.
The flurry of comments had the hashtag "Rowan" trending on Twitter Thursday night.
In a message to the campus on Thursday about the parking garage incident, university president Ali Houshmand said the school has suffered "more losses than ever before" although the school does not maintain a ranking of deaths from year to year.
The school said three of the deaths were students suicides. Some students on social media said the number is as high as eight, and alleged the school is downplaying a mental health crisis on campus.
"What happens is that people have started seeing a lot of deaths this semester. But they're not all students and they're not all suicides," Spokesman Joe Cardona told New Jersey 101.5 on Friday. "Ten members of the Rowan community have passed this semester. That's faculty, staff and students. Of those 10, three were suicides. Somewhere somebody thew out that number of eight and now that's being repeated over and over and over as if that's the number,"
Cardona said the school aims to honor the wishes of family members when deciding how much detail to release about an individual's death. In some cases, like the Thanksgiving suicide of a student, the family encouraged release of a cause of death in the hope it might help others.
Cardona said that the university was criticized for the slow release of information about a student who died while he was "down south," away from both campus and his home. He said an announcement was not made about his death immediately because a protocol is followed.
"We have to notify family and roommates. We weren't notifying the university community as soon as we found out so people got frustrated with that," Cardona said. "Like 'what are they hiding? What aren't they being transparent?' Because we have to follow protocols. We have to be compassionate. We need to follow privacy issues. And that becomes a challenge and people question the university,"
Brian Moore, a sixth-year engineering graduate, offered online to listen to anyone who couldn't speak to a Rowan counselor.
"Students are always put on wait lists and you really have to be having bullying issues to get help. They just don't seem to be spending their money in the right places," Moore, who is from Wayne, told New Jersey 101.5.
"We know Rowan has a lot of money. They are rapidly expanding and building these beautiful buildings. It doesn't seem like it would take much for them to hire a few more counselors and maybe expand the wellness center," Moore said.
Cardona said that in the past students were put on a wait list to speak with a counselor. But the school implemented a new system in the Spring 2019 semester and has tripled the amount of available counselors in the past six years.
"Everyone who walks into the wellness center gets to see a counselor one-on-one. During the session the councelor makes a professional decision and hands them a personal plan based on what level of crisis they are in," Cardona said.
But stories linger on social media about lengthy waits and getting a "bad plan," Cordona said. Some of the comments posted to Twitter Thursday night reflect that.
The problem, he said, is that many people come in with the expectation the school can provide a counselor faster than it does.
"But as of now we're not the same wellness center we were just a few year ago," Cordona said.
The regularly scheduled Student Government Association meeting on Monday night will be devoted to bringing together students, faculty and staff to discuss concerns about mental health, resources and grief, according to Cordona.
"As president, I am determined to do everything possible to serve our university community, especially in times of crisis," Houshmand said in his statement. "As a father, I am moved with compassion for each person who struggles. I implore those who need help to ask for it and for everyone to speak and act with kindness as we move through this difficult time and beyond."
The student in the parking garage incident remained hospitalized and has had several surgeries. Cordona said his family has asked for privacy and said he could not release additional information about the incident.
If you feel you or someone you know may be in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, 1-800-273-TALK, or the NJ Hopeline, 1-855-654-6735.
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