Life after death at IUP: student-bereavement policy adopted

A Civic Project story

Katelynn H. Tucker, junior exercise science major at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Zink Hall, April 21, 2016. Photo by Jaimi Dodson.

Katelynn H. Tucker, junior exercise science major at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Zink Hall, April 21, 2016. Photo by Jaimi Dodson.

By Jaimi Dodson

INDIANA –- Katelynn H. Tucker, 21, a junior exercise science major at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, endured the worst hardship of her life on Nov. 12, 2014. That’s when her mother – her biggest supporter and best friend — died of breast cancer.

That was the start of her grief. Tucker said she went into denial and struggled with depression.

“I tried to go right back into life after the funeral,” Tucker said in a March 24 phone interview. “The whole spring semester after, I felt kind of non-existent.”

For students like Tucker, the university offers services for the grief-stricken. But, also like Tucker, few students seek help.

Half of IUP students who responded to a recent survey said they have suffered the death of a loved one while enrolled at the university. But the vast majority of respondents said they seek no help for their grief and bereavement.

Tucker’s symptoms of bereavement – depression, physical and emotional numbness — are found in about 40 percent of people one month after they suffer a loss of a loved one, according to a 2008 article in Psychiatric Times  on bereavement-related depression. The research found that symptoms fade. About 7 percent show symptoms after two years.

At IUP, a chapter of Actively Moving Forward, a nationwide non-profit support group for grieving college students, operates in the Counseling Center.

Sara M. Troupe, a clinical psychology doctoral student at IUP, is the advisor to the campus chapter of AMF. About 15 students have attended regular meetings since the group began in spring 2015, Troupe said.

Sara M. Troupe, Indiana University of Pennsylvania clinical psychology doctoral student, IUP Counseling Center, April 27, 2016. Photo by Jaimi Dodson.

Sara M. Troupe, Indiana University of Pennsylvania clinical psychology doctoral student, IUP Counseling Center, April 27, 2016. Photo by Jaimi Dodson.

Her work with the counseling center and the AMF chapter revealed a need for a university policy governing leave for bereaved students, Troupe said. In February, she drafted a bereavement-leave policy with the help of university administrators.

On April 26, the University Senate adopted the policy, with one dissenting vote. Senator Stephanie M. Jozefowicz, Ph.D, a professor in the economics department, said the policy lacked clarity. (See policy provision in sidebar, below.)

“How am I, as a faculty member, supposed to interpret the grieving process?” Jozefowicz said in an interview following the April 26 Senate meeting. “In my own labor contract there is a defined number of days for bereavement, and it also specifically defines relationship. So it’s not clear from this policy — bereavement for whom and for what time?”

Senator Catherine M. Dugan, director for the IUP Office of Advising and Testing, served on a committee that reviewed the policy before Senate adoption. Dugan said the new policy extends existing policy governing emergencies.

“We already have an emergency procedure,” Dugan said. “It’s just to verify for students and faculty. They still have to document the death.”

 

THE NEW student-bereavement policy encourages students to visit the campus counseling center, Troupe said. The encouragement apparently is needed.

Students are not using the services that IUP provides, according to a Qualtrics survey emailed to 1,000 graduate and undergraduate IUP students on April 20. The survey closed on April 25.

Of 56 respondents, 28 students – half — said they have suffered from the death of a loved one since enrolling at IUP. Of those, 24 students — 86 percent — said they didn’t use IUP counseling services.

Like them, Tucker didn’t patronize IUP’s services, using her own support system instead.

“I needed lots of hugs and lots of positive words,” she said.  “I got just that by doing it without IUP services.”

Jaimi Dodson, a junior majoring in journalism and public relations at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is from Grantville.

 

Sidebar: The death of Devin Lecomte

In fall 2015, Devin Michael Lecomte, 19, of Ashville, enrolled as a freshman at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Early in the morning of Sept. 1, a week after the start of the semester, he was found dead on Papermill Avenue next to the campus parking garage.

Twin brothers Brian (left) and Devin Lecomte, in their home in Ashville. Photo taken by Devin on Devin’s computer in 2015. Photo taken from Facebook with permission of Brian Lecomte.

Twin brothers Brian (left) and Devin Lecomte, in their home in Ashville. Photo taken by Devin on Devin’s computer in 2015. Photo taken from Facebook with permission of Brian Lecomte.

Rumors flew about suicide. Authorities confirmed nothing. But following a same-day autopsy, the coroner declared that it was not a murder case.

“Foul play has been ruled out at this time,” said Indiana County Coroner Jerry Overman Jr.

Overman added that blood and tissue samples had been submitted to a lab for toxicology tests.

Seven months later, Overman would not discuss the case because litigation was pending, he said in an April 7 phone interview.

The university also would not comment on the Lecomte case, although a spokeswoman said the Lecomte estate plans to sue.

“We don’t comment on litigation,” Michelle S. Fryling said in an April 15 Sutton Hall interview.

 

TWO PEOPLE, however, described Devin Lecomte as depressed shortly before his death.

“He was obsessed with Nirvana and kept talking about the way Kurt Cobain died,” acquaintance Clay L. Dubois, 19, an IUP pre-pharmacy major, said in an April 13 interview in Sutton Hall.

Devin’s twin brother, Brian Lecomte, 19, an information technology major at the Pittsburgh Technical Institute, said his brother had been mourning the death of an older sibling, Daniel, who died in an August 2010 drunk-driving accident in which he was a passenger. He was 19.

Brian said he knows little about his twin’s death because IUP has withheld information from his family. But he said he knows his brother did not commit suicide.

“I know my beautiful brother would never leave me alone in this world,” Brian wrote in an April 9 interview on Facebook. “He loved me more than anything.”

 

NATIONWIDE, the suicide rate rose from 1999 through 2014, according to data published in April by the National Center for Health Statistics. The rate increased to 13.0 per 100,000 people from 10.5, a 24 percent increase.

A study published by Emory University and updated in 2016 reported the same results.

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among people aged 25 to 34, according to the Emory study. It’s the third-leading cause of death among people aged 15 to 24.

About 18.8 million Americans -– about 6 percent of the population — suffer from depression each year. Two-thirds of people who commit suicide are depressed, according to the Emory data.

One in 10 college students has made a plan to commit suicide, according to the Emory data.

At Boston University the number of students who visited the campus health clinic for crisis-depression help more than doubled from the 2011-2012 academic year to the 2014-2015 academic year, according to an Oct.6 article published by BU Today, the campus newspaper. Students seeking help numbered 290 in 2011-2012 and 647 in 2014-2015, a 123 percent increase.

Brian Lecomte said he, too, is grieving and struggling with the losses of his brothers. He added that he is not seeking counseling.

“It’s impossible to deal with,” Brian said. “I have interests that keep my mind off of things, like video games and anime.”

 

Sidebar: New IUP student-bereavement-leave policy 

Following is wording of a new policy that governs Indiana University of Pennsylvania students who request leave for bereavement following the death of a family member or a loved one. The policy was adopted by the University Senate on April 26:


Bereavement-related Class Absences

The university community recognizes the impact that the loss of a family member or loved one may have on the emotional and academic wellbeing of a student. In such circumstances, a student may request that a bereavement absence notification be sent to their faculty by contacting either the Advising and Testing Center or the Dean’s office of the college of their major, who will send an email to the student’s faculty stating that the student is away from the university due to the death of a family member or loved one. Documentation that verifies the death (e.g., a funeral program, death notice, obituary, etc.) and the nature of the student’s relationship to the deceased may be requested.

The university encourages allowances for the grieving process, while acknowledging the faculty member’s right in determining the terms of variance from the course syllabus. The student is expected to take the initiative to make all arrangements for meeting academic requirements. The university community also encourages students affected by a loss to contact the IUP Counseling Center or other university and community resources, as appropriate, if they are in need of ongoing emotional support.

Source: Sara M. Troupe, Indiana University of Pennsylvania clinical psychology doctoral student, co-author of the provision.

 


 

For comparison, here is the bereavement-leave policy that is included in the latest collective bargaining agreement negotiated between the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education and the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, or APSCUF, the union of faculty members and coaches:


In accordance with Act 182, whenever a FACULTY MEMBER shall be absent
from duty because of a death in the immediate family of said FACULTY MEMBER,
there shall be no deduction in salary of said FACULTY MEMBER for an absence not in
excess of three (3) days. Members of the immediate family shall be defined as father,
mother, brother, sister, son, daughter, husband, wife, domestic partner, or parent-in-law.
Also included shall be any near relative who resides in the same household or any person
with whom the FACULTY MEMBER has made his/her home. In addition, a FACULTY
MEMBER may use up to two (2) days of sick leave for this purpose. The actual days to
be granted shall be such as will accommodate the reasonable needs of the FACULTY
MEMBER involved, and it is expected that his/her classes or other responsibilities will be
covered by his/her colleagues.

Source: 2011-2015 Collective Bargaining Agreement between PaSSHE and APSCUF

 

Sidebar: Qualtrics survey results

Following are salient results of a six-item Qualtrics questionnaire emailed to 1,000 Indiana University of Pennsylvania undergraduate and graduate students on April 20, 2016. The survey closed on April 25. Respondents numbered 56, a 5.6 percent response rate. The margin of error is 2.9 percentage points.

  • 77 percent of respondents said they were women.
  • 50 percent said they had suffered the death of a loved one while enrolled at IUP.
  • 79 percent said they would have benefitted from an excused leave of absence from classes.
  • 86 percent said they had used no services offered by IUP to help with bereavement.

 

Sidebar: Qualtrics Survey

Following is the text of a six-item Qualtrics questionnaire emailed to 1,000 Indiana University of Pennsylvania undergraduate and graduate students on April 20, 2016. The survey closed on April 25. Respondents numbered 56, a 5.6 percent response rate.

My name is Jaimi Dodson. I am a junior IUP journalism and public relations major conducting this survey for a news story about loss and bereavement for publication in The HawkEye, an online newspaper published in the journalism department.

This survey is being conducted for the story. Individual survey responses will be anonymous. Aggregated anonymous response data may be published in The HawkEye published in the IUP Department of Journalism and Public Relations by professor David Loomis.

If you are willing to be interviewed by a reporter, you may provide your contact information at the conclusion of this questionnaire.

Some background: Bereavement is a term that means grieving from the death of a loved one. On IUP’s campus, there is no current policy allowing students to take a leave of absence after the death of a loved one, but that may be changing soon. A bereavement leave policy is being voted on in the next University Senate meeting that notifies the students’ professors and excuses them from their classes, if they are willing to make up their work.

The questionnaire results are as follows:
1. What is your sex?
Male
Female
Other

2. What is your age as of Friday, April 14, 2016?
18
19
20
21
22
23
24+

3. Have you suffered the death of a loved one while enrolled at IUP?
Yes
No

4. If so, would you have benefitted from an excused leave of absence from your classes?
Yes
No

5. What IUP services, if any have you used, to help with your possible bereavement?
IUP Counseling Center
Actively Moving Forward
Various Hotlines
Other
None

6. If you used services, did you find them helpful? Explain.

If you are willing to be interviewed by a reporter, please provide your contact information here.
Thank you.

 

Sidebar: For More Information/To Get Help:

For more information about how to get involved with bereavement on IUP’s campus or to get help for loss, grieving or mental illness, contact the following:

David M. Myers, Ph.D
Chairman
The Counseling Center
The Center for Health and Well-Being
Suites on Maple East G31
1011 South Dr.
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Indiana, Pa. 15705
Email: dmyers@iup.edu
Phone: 724-357-2621

Sara M. Troupe
Peer Advisor
Actively Moving Forward
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Indiana, Pa. 15705
Email: dpmt@iup.edu
Website: https://www.iup.edu/newsItem.aspx?id=213977&blogid=8187
Website: http://www.studentsofamf.org/about/

Nancy Lublin
CEO of Crisis Text Line
Text “Start” to 741-741
Email: info@crisistextline.org
Website: http://www.crisistextline.org/

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
1-800-273-TALK (8255)
http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/gethelp/lifelinechat.aspx

Indiana-Armstrong County Crisis Hotline:
1-877-333-2470

The Open Door
665 Philadelphia St.
Second Floor Atrium
Indiana, Pa. 15701
Email: opendoor26@hotmail.com
Phone: 724-465-2605
Website: http://www.theopendoor.org

Rhonda H. Luckey
Vice president of student affairs
Concern and Response Team (CART) Convener
213 Sutton Hall
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Indiana, Pa. 15705
Email: rluckey@iup.edu
Phone: 724-357-4040

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