WPI faces crisis after 4 recent student deaths

The Worcester Polytechnic Institute is facing a campus crisis after four student deaths in four months.

WPI officials say a freshman was found dead in his dorm room on Monday evening. The cause of death is under investigation. Three other WPI underclassmen have died since July. Two of those deaths have been publicly confirmed as suicides.

WPI President Laurie Leshin calls the school’s unprecedented level of loss. Prior to the recent deaths, there had been two student suicides since 2006.

“So, as you can imagine, we’re in shock,” Leshin said. “Immediately after the tragedies, we worked closely with the students who were closest to our deceased students. “

Leshin said the on-campus mental health center recently added to its staff, including two full-time counselor positions this fall – one of which is yet to be filled – and per diem staff to better respond to issues. of student mental health in times of crisis. high need.

Some students in a social media forum expressed concern about the long waits for counseling center appointments. According to Leshin, it takes one to three days to get an admission appointment.

WPI is also sponsoring rallies for students to voice their grief over recent student deaths, and it has launched an effort to foster campus-wide connection and well-being, Leshin said.

“Everyone on this campus needs to be a part of this culture of care. And that’s really where we focus our energies,” she said. “If we put this entirely on the backs of mental health professionals, we will never have enough. We have to see it as a more systemic issue in which we all need to be involved.”

Robbie Starr graduated from WPI in May and is now a freshman graduate student. He was the fraternity brother of a WPI student who committed suicide in September.

“It was incredibly hard to take, knowing that this wasn’t just the first student death – or the first student suicide – this year. It was like an extra punch,” said Starr, adding that the fellowship immediately became a source of comfort and support. .

“We’re just trying to watch each other and really try to make sure that, you know, everyone is okay,” Starr said. “And you know, we all got together, and we laughed at all the good times and shared all the stories that we remember and will miss.

Starr is now part of a mental health task force that the WPI administration has formed following the student deaths. He had worked on previous mental health peer support efforts on campus.

As the task force works on recommendations on how to better deal with mental health on campus, Starr said he hopes students, faculty and staff in the WPI community will wonder how they are doing emotionally. .

“We have to come together and show love and care for each other,” Starr said. “It’s a tough situation for anyone – or any group of people to go through. But give each other the grace and respect and understanding that, you know, we all go through this together and we check each other out, is of the utmost importance. “

Starr also urged faculty to give students more time and space to complete their work. He said some teachers do, but more of this kind of response is needed.

“[G]living each other the grace, respecting each other and understanding that, you know, we are all going through this together, and checking each other out, is of the utmost importance. “

“We really have to work on this,” Starr said. “This period of adjustment to make sure everyone is, you know, well enough and up to date to be the best they can be.”

Leshin echoed this sentiment. The stress and isolation that dominated the past school year due to the coronavirus pandemic has impacted students’ resilience, she said, adding that students need to have time to ‘get back’ to school. typical school routine – with their needs understood and met.


Resources: You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and the Samaritans Hotline (call or text) at 1-877-870-HOPE (4673). Call2Talk can be accessed by calling Massachusetts 211 or 508-532-2255 (or texting c2t to 741741).


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