Grieving students need more support

By Jenna Fitzgerald | Copy Editor

Students have a lot on their plates: classes, jobs, self-care, a social life, etc. The reality for about a quarter of those students, though, is grief is on there too.

Studies show between 22% and 30% of college students are at any given time in their first year of grieving the death of a family member or friend. At Baylor, with an undergraduate population of 15,191 students, that means between 3,342 and 4,557 undergraduates are currently in their initial stage of bereavement. With such a significant portion of college students wading through the trenches of grief, it is difficult to fathom how there could be such a profound lack of resources for them.

Baylor’s only direct mention of this topic, though, comes in its attendance policy: “In the event of serious illness, accident or death in the family, students should contact their professors as soon as they are able … Students are usually allowed to make up classwork and/or tests missed which result from such crises.” Essentially, there are no guidelines for what students should do when they are faced with grave loss, looming funerals and ever-present grief — other than the suggestion to get in touch with professors in hopes of “usually” being able to make up missed assignments. Students in these situations are forced to prioritize one of two things: a healthy grieving process or their education.

Last semester, I found myself at this unfortunate fork in the road. The same day I returned to Baylor after winter break, on Jan. 15, I got a phone call telling me my grandpa had died. Three days later, on Jan. 18, I got a phone call telling me my aunt had died. All of this came just 10 months after my grandma had died. Suddenly, without any warning, I had to process how my mother’s immediate family had gone from five to two — all while in my freshman dorm room the day before spring semester classes started.

At the time, I had two options. I could go home, be with my family and travel to Iowa for the funerals, but this would mean contacting professors who I had never met to ask for time off before classes even began. Or, I could stay at Baylor, work through my grief alone and attend classes as normal, but this would mean finding peace without the support of my family or the closure of the funerals.

I ultimately chose my education over a healthy grieving process. The fear of making a less-than-ideal first impression on my professors and falling drastically behind in schoolwork was enough to pressure me into that decision. So, I watched livestreamed funerals from my phone while I walked to Cashion Academic Center for my 11 a.m. Spanish class, and I tried to shut my emotions down once they were over. Indeed, summer break was the first time I could truly comprehend the magnitude of loss I had experienced, and it was the first time I could work through it in a healthy way.

When death is in their rearview mirror, students should not have to choose between a healthy grieving process and their education. They should be able to take time off to process their loss without worrying about assignments stacking up to an unmanageable level. Telling students to work out arrangements with their professors on a case-by-case basis does nothing to quell these anxieties, and while the Counseling Center and Spiritual Life are meaningful resources, they can by no means be the only support that’s given to students who are fighting through some of the most agonizing times of their lives.

Death is hard enough. College shouldn’t make it any harder.

Jenna Fitzgerald
Jenna Fitzgerald is a senior University Scholar from Dallas, with a secondary major in news-editorial and minors in political science and Spanish. In her third year at the Lariat, she is excited to learn from her staff and walk with them through the daily joys and challenges of publication. After graduation, she plans to attend grad school and hopefully teach at the college level.