By Faith Tarpley and Catalina Righter
Elm Staff Writer and News Editor
After the apparent suicide of Washington College sophomore Jacob Marberger and an extended closure of the campus, the College is working to provide support services for students.
On Sunday Nov. 29 administration held a meeting and Q&A in the Cain Athletic Center for students, faculty, and staff to discuss resources for students. Audience members heard from President Sheila Bair, Director of Public Safety Jerry Roderick, Provost and Dean Emily Chamlee-Wright, and Director of Counseling Miranda Altman.
Grief & Mental Health Resources
“There is no higher priority for this school than the physical and psychological well-being of all our students,” said President Bair in a campus-wide email.
In addition to the WC Counseling Services staff, outside counselors are available to meet the needs of students in the coming weeks. Students seeking counseling should visit the Health & Counseling Services Center located between Caroline House and Queen Anne’s House. For those students more comfortable with speaking to clergy, a list of community clergy members is available via Counseling Services.
“If there are any problems, please reach out,” said President Bair. “Do not try to deal with it on your own. There is no need for you to do that. We don’t want you to do that.”
Dr. Altman said, “Suicide is complex. There isn’t one factor, one event or one experience that led Jacob to take his own life. Sometimes we need an explanation, a way of making sense of what has occurred. In the coming days and weeks, we will struggle to understand how and why this happened. This too is a normal part of bereavement.”
Bair asked students not to search for a party to blame. “Don’t turn inward. Don’t be angry. Now is not the time for guilt. Now is not the time for incriminations or anger. I don’t think Jacob would have wanted that.”
A memorial ceremony will be held on campus before the end of classes.
In addition to support for this semester, members of the community are seeking out long-term social changes that can be made to prevent future suicides. From 2007 to 2013, suicides increased in people ages 15 to 24 from 9.6 to 11.1 in every 100,000, according to The New York Times. That rate increases further when focused solely on college campuses: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has a suicide rate higher than that of the national average, according to the Boston Globe.
One issue at the front of the discussion is bullying, which some speculate contributed to Marberger’s decision to commit suicide. Bullying is consistently a problem on college campuses.
Bair announced a new task force at the Sunday, Nov. 29 meeting “that is going to be looking at our procedures and policies” to ensure that they “support and reinforce” a sense of mutual respect and community. “In particular, I would like that task force to take a look at social media and anonymous message boards and websites, and what kind of role they play and what kind of impact they have on the culture we support and nurture here.” She called for students to join this task force along with administrators, faculty, alumni, and outside experts.
Students who have suggestions or recommendations for the task force can email firstname.lastname@example.org. Their comments will remain anonymous.
More than one-quarter of young people have been or will be bullied online, according to No Bullying. In addition to those bullied, more than half of teens using the Internet and social media have seen cyber bullying take place.
“Bullying stays consistent throughout your entire life,” said Fabianna Pergolizzi, CEO and president of Project Anti-Bully. She spoke with USA Today about the misconception that bullying ends after high school. College, according to Pergolizzi, is a new frontier of social interaction. “This competitive field didn’t exist [in high school] where kids are trying to further their academic careers and use the Internet to put other students down: taking bad photos at a party, making fraudulent accounts or pages,” said Pergolizzi. “This is way more prominent in college.”
For those students who do not turn to suicide after experiencing bullying, dropping out of school is often an alternate response. It has been estimated that more than 100,000 undergraduates withdraw from school each year to cope with bullying from their peers on various platforms, according to the Buffalo State University of New York Anti-Bullying Initiative.
Regarding all threats to the WC community, whether internal or external, Director of Public Safety Jerry Roderick urges students to speak up if they see or hear something suspicious or blatantly dangerous.
“I just want to remind the student body that whenever you’re experiencing threatening language, these are the kinds of things that need to be brought to our attention,” said Roderick. “We really want people to understand this is very serious stuff and should not ignore it or think it’s silly and do nothing with the information.”
Bair said in a campus-wide message, emailed out on Tuesday, Nov. 24, “Washington College does not tolerate bullying or harassment. Should any student have difficulties, I want to assure you that we are here for you.”
Incidents of verbal or physical harassment should be reported to Public Safety at (410) 778-7810 or the Student Affairs office at (410) 778-7752.
In order to help make up for lost instruction time while campus was closed, two instruction days have been added to the end of the semester. Friday, Dec. 11 will run on a Monday class schedule. Saturday, Dec. 12 will run on a Tuesday class schedule. Final exams will proceed as previously scheduled. The schedule is available at https://www.washcoll.edu/offices/registrar/final-exam-schedule, though students should communicate with professors about adjustments that may have been made to the schedule.
Dr. Chamlee-Wright said, “We recognize what this means for you, that you have fewer class days between the last class day and the first exam day. Your professors know that too and they’re smart. They know how to make adjustments that are appropriate for the circumstances.”
Associate Provost for Academic Services Patrice DiQuinzio sent out a campus-wide email on the morning of Sunday, Nov. 29, detailing academic support resources from the Office of Academic Skills, the Quantitative Skills Center, The Writing Center, and The Global Education Office. She said, “Please don’t hesitate to ask me or any of our professional staff in these offices if you have any questions.” Students with questions about a specific course should also reach out to their professors.
The Registrar’s Office is also working to meet demands and time deadlines. A campus-wide email sent from the registrar on Thursday, Nov. 19 announced that the drop/add period for Spring 2016 would begin on Nov. 30, later than planned. In addition, “Degree audits for seniors expecting to graduate in May 2016 will be sent to seniors and their advisors on Monday, Dec. 7. Registrar’s Office staff and I will make every effort to help all seniors who need to adjust their Spring 2016 course schedule beginning Dec. 7. Those with registrar-specific concerns should contact Registrar Ashley Turlington at email@example.com.”