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Responding to Grief and Loss

We would like to begin by expressing our heartfelt condolences.

The following was emailed to all students.

Dear students,

This is a most difficult note to have to write as our community returns to campus from break. We would like to begin by expressing our heartfelt condolences to the friends of three students we lost this past quarter, Ziwen (Jerry) Wang, Kelly Catlin, and Mischa Nee. Few things are tougher than losing a fellow student.  While each of us experiences these losses differently, we are also impacted collectively as members of a closely connected community.  We write today with information and reflections on three themes: community remembrances; mental well-being; and grief and loss.  

Community remembrances

As a community, it is important for us to acknowledge the grief and loss we have experienced.  Planning is under way for a series of memorials to allow us to do that difficult work together. These gatherings offer us time and space to grieve, to remember, and to honor the lives of those who have passed.

The Office of Religious Life will host a grief memorial, Honoring Lives and Remembering Losses, at 12:15 p.m. April 11 in Memorial Church. The service draws from diverse faith and non-faith traditions to structure a time for participants to honor those in their lives who have passed, while participants acknowledge their own grief. Those who attend are invited to light a candle for a friend or loved one who has died. From personal experience, we know grief takes time. Losses compound one after another and we can be surprised by the feelings that emerge months or years later. We know these recent losses on campus have touched other losses some of you have undoubtedly experienced. This service is intended to allow those emotions to surface as we walk together toward healing and hope.

There are also a number of plans underway for community gatherings to remember Mischa’s recent passing.  Mischa’s family will hold a religious funeral for him at their church in Palo Alto, and there will be other opportunities to remember him in the coming days and weeks. We will add updates to this message as they become available.  

Mental well-being

These losses can impact our community's well-being as we grapple with our shared grief.  We may find this added stress weighs on us individually and reinforces questions about the state of student well-being on campus. These are our struggles, too. These are the questions with which we wrestle each and every day, the questions that keep us up late at night, the questions that drive us to craft better solutions for caring for and nurturing our Stanford community.

We know you are looking to the university to make things better. We have spent the better part of the past 18 months conducting research and developing a series of plans regarding the well-being of our students on every level, from clinical services to the overall climate at Stanford. We have tapped into the collective wisdom of the students who have come forward with insights and suggestions, individually, at town halls, and at a recent demonstration held by concerned students on White Plaza.

We have consulted with leading experts on the topic, including Stanford faculty, the JED Foundation, and peer institutions, and sought their advice and counsel. We studied the systems and services we have in place today, and interviewed current staff members so that we could learn as much as possible from the people who connect most directly with distressed students. What we learned is that we must do many things on all levels in order to effectively address this situation. We will send details of this plan to you in a subsequent email in the coming weeks, and we will continue, as we advance this work, to draw upon the wisdom and insight of students, researchers, and the many different Stanford people who serve in care-giving roles.

Grief and loss

In times of loss, communities often look for wisdom from those who have lived through similar circumstances.  We have found one source of this wisdom in the work of writer Jan Richardson. Following the death of her partner, Richardson wrote a poem each day to chronicle her own walk through the aftermath of loss. She tells her readers,

You will want
to out run the grief.
You will want
to keep turning toward
the horizon,
watching for what was lost…

For now,
hear me when I say
all you need to do
is to still yourself,
is to turn toward one another…

In our own experiences of grief and loss, we have discovered the only way out of the pain of grief is to move through it. Grieving is a process that unfolds and unwinds over time, giving us what we can bear in that moment, even when we feel we can take no more.  Although grief can be an isolating experience, with each person’s grief taking a different path and pace, we feel this is nonetheless a road best traveled together, in companionship and community.

After the events of the next few weeks have passed, we will continue to come together. A gathering for students who are grieving will take place from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Thursday, May 9, in the common room of The CIRCLE on the third floor of Old Union. This will be an opportunity for conversation, when we’ll share stories and connect with one another around the experiences of grief and loss of loved ones. 

We are heartened by the knowledge that many of you have been reaching out to one other and seeking assistance from our colleagues to bring people together in community. There have been gatherings in our residence halls, classrooms, and labs throughout the winter quarter and through spring break, including this weekend. We know from personal experience that spending time with friends and family can be grounding and consoling at a time like this. We are particularly grateful for our student staff members who live and work in our dorms and graduate residences and all they are doing to be present for their residents even as they tend to their own grief.

Campus support services

We will continue to do all we can to help our community members come together, offering the space, counseling and support requested and needed. Undergraduate student residential staff, graduate community associates, resident fellows, residence deans, and graduate life deans are available to speak with you, and CAPS clinical resources are available 24-7.  For those who prefer an anonymous discussion with peer counselors, The Bridge Peer Counseling Center is open to you. The National Suicide Hotline is available 24 hours every day at 1-800-273-8255. Please know that all of these resources will remain available to you during your entire time at Stanford.

On a large and decentralized campus, it can feel as if you are alone in your struggles, but please know that is not true. Together, as a community, we are here for one another. University administrators, staff, faculty, and students are all here to connect with and support each other as we face these daily challenges.

This is a tough way to begin week 1 but we could not let another day pass without addressing these topics with you. Our doors are open.  Please reach out to us at any time.

Sincerely,

Susie Brubaker-Cole
Vice Provost for Student Affairs

Tiffany Steinwert
Dean for Religious Life