Chancellor's Friday Letters

Two Student Deaths

Two Student Deaths

October 30, 2009


Sadly, this Friday Letter focuses on the profoundly sorrowful, as we lost two students to separate fatal automobile accidents on area freeways during a recent 5-day period.

The University is a microcosm of society. We are not immune to life’s events, and don’t expect to be. But because so many of our campus community are in their late teens and 20s, student death provides a sobering pause in the otherwise high energy environment of learning and discovery that we live in.

We typically lose 4-6 students per year. Each time, losing a student is a wrenching experience for all involved.

What occurs at the University when we experience such tragedy?

I have been impressed and moved by the sensitivity and compassion shown by all involved as we mourn our loss, support the family, and help manage the grief and healing for our students, faculty and staff.

First and foremost, we reach out immediately to the parents, family and friends, whose grief is often overwhelming. They deserve our support, and find a degree of comfort in knowing their student had friends and was making a difference here.

Death also deeply impacts those left behind in the student’s micro-community: friends from their living community‚Ķ students, faculty, and TAs from their classes and discussion sections… even closer relationships formed in a research laboratory, an athletic team, or a creative or performing arts studio.

Consequently, our professional staff moves quickly and assuredly to provide assistance to those most closely affected by tragedy. Counseling, emotional, and social support are provided through appointments, walk-ins, or 24/7 phone assistance. When necessary, students who need time to grieve and heal are provided accommodation in their academic activities.

The University’s role becomes even more complicated when a student is international, and his or her family is ‘back home’ where cultures and customs may differ at such sorrowful times, and language barriers may exist.

But for us at UCR, it is so much more than this.

Our staff are among the best I have been fortunate to work with when it comes to caring, deeply and personally, at any time day or night when these horrific events occur.

Members of our University staff attend the services… send personal notes and stay in touch… help bundle up the student’s personal effects and ensure that the families get them… accompany trembling parents to the coroner’s office… hand a suicide note to a grieving family and helplessly sit with them as they react in indescribable ways to the message left by their child… seek to provide coherence to the incoherent when an only child dies… go to the hospital to hold vigil or to support others who may have survived the horrific accident.

In the end it’s finding the right words and actions that give parents a moment of peace which, in turn, enables them to go on.

This is the University that I know. It’s the genuine caring that allows us, even in our darkest moments, to be guided by Fiat Lux.

Earlier this week I commented to Jim Sandoval, our Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, who along with his staff is directly involved in such matters, that they had had particularly tough duty of late. Jim’s response was “Yes that is part of my job I will never fully welcome, but find some solace in being there for people in need.”



Tim White


We are very grateful to be able to welcome a new dean of UCR’s School of Medicine. Dr. G. Richard Olds is accomplished, charismatic and just as dedicated as I am to the success of the medical school initiative.

This upcoming Tuesday marks a milestone event, a symposium that highlights research institutes launched during the decade led by former chancellor Ray Orbach. We will hear about conservation biology, plant genetics, nanotechnology, invasive species, and alternative fuels. And we will celebrate the Orbach Science Library.

The cheering you hear tomorrow near the Citrus Variety Collection will be urging on our Cross Country teams competing in the Big West Conference Championships. It starts at 9 a.m. if you want to stop by.

The UCR/California Museum of Photography will host a First Sundays event called “Gallery Talk & Portrait Studio” starting at 1 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 1.

Wondering what else is going on at UCR? It’s all listed at www.happenings.ucr.edu

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