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Healing begins after suicide

In the wake of an apparent campus suicide, Thanksgiving Break came at a fitting time for students dealing with the tragedy.
“Everything was a little more tense after it happened,” Jeff  Schieferle Uhlenbrock, the residence hall director of Geisert, said. “It was nice to have Thanksgiving Break so everyone could go home for a few days and gather their thoughts.”
Three days before the start of the break, freshman Joel Wilson was found dead in his Geisert Hall room. The death was an apparent suicide.
“It seems pretty surreal,” Schieferle Uhlenbrock said. “You never think it’s going to happen around you.”
Executive Director of Residential Living and Leadership Nathan Thomas said people were “stunned” when they found out about what happened.
“You kind of have to catch your breath and collect yourself and realize this is real,” he said.
After overcoming the initial reaction, Thomas said it was important to formulate a plan to address how to communicate the tragedy to students living in Geisert.
“Unfortunately it’s not something you can open up a book and find the answers to,” he said.
Thomas said he had to find out the students or groups of students who were affected most by the tragedy.
“You begin to think about what students need most here and how can we get it to them in the most appropriate way,” he said.
Thomas said several students living in Geisert requested to move to different rooms, and counselors were made available to all students.
He said Residence Life Staff did a good job in responding to the tragedy.
“We train for communication skills, knowing if there is a crisis, how to respond, those kinds of things,” he said. “The rest becomes human nature … all that kind of stuff just gets amplified and put into a pressure cooker in how they would respond.”
Thomas said although the staff was prepared, there is no way to train for a tragedy such as this one.
He said the staff usually re-evaluates training after incidents such as this one occur.
Schieferle Uhlenbrock said the staff, counselors and administrators worked “seamlessly together.”
“My staff was phenomenal,” he said. “They did a great job in handling the situation and just being available … and so was the administration … we were very lucky to have strong support on all sides.”
Schieferle Uhlenbrock said there was a mandatory meeting with the students on the floor that included hall directors, administrators and counselors.
“There were a couple other meetings within the building so people could find out about it and talk about it,” he said. “Counselors were present, too, to lead that conversation. It was an avenue for counselors to make themselves available to everyone in case they needed it.”
There were also meetings with the rest of the students in the building and another meeting took place for any other student who wanted to talk, Vice President for Student Affairs Alan Galsky said.
“We wanted to hold a group meeting with students who might be the most affected to let them know that we were there and let them know how to cope,” he said.
Galsky said there isn’t a lot the university can do to avoid a tragedy such as a suicide.
“You must have an active, responsive counseling center and you must promote to your student body the need to see counselors,” he said.
A memorial service for Wilson will take place at 2 p.m. Sunday in the Marty Theatre.
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