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Faculty & Staff Help

Responding to a Student Death

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The death of a student can be emotionally difficult and stressful for students, faculty, and staff. Recognizing the shock and profound sadness that the student’s family and friends will experience, the Dean of Students has designed a protocol to ensure a professional and caring response is implemented.
The protocol attempts to: 
  • Provide an empathetic and caring voice to family and friends of the deceased.
  • Assist those dealing with the crisis to respond appropriately in a timely manner.
  • Provide coordination with external individuals and agencies.
  • Provide communication within the university community.
  • Assist with post-crisis support and resolution.
When implementing the protocol, the Dean of Students Office must remember that FERPA applies until the death is verified. Depending upon the student’s academic status and the location where the death occurred (on campus, off campus) the procedures of the protocol will be implemented as appropriate. 
It is also important to understand that each situation is unique. The Dean of Students has the responsibility for coordinating the University’s response to a student death.
The Dean of Students communicates with many offices at the university to ensure the student is withdrawn from courses, the faculty and staff with direct interaction are informed, and the support units can enact their services to those in need.

Faculty and Staff Resources for Responding to a Student Death 

Attend to Your Own Well-being

When tragic events happen, people respond to grief and loss in their own way. Allow yourself time to process in ways that are helpful for you.
Benefit-eligible USM employees can use Employee Assistance Program resources that provide counseling for you and your household. You can also find more information on the University HR website.

Bring It into the Classroom

Be clear about your role to set boundaries and expectations for you and your students. For example, this language from the Stanford Teaching Commons could be helpful:
“As your instructor, I care about your well-being. I'm not a trained counselor. However, I can help connect you to resources for further support.”
  • Acknowledge the loss: Whether it is via an email or Canvas announcement, or in class, you can acknowledge the loss to your class. You can acknowledge leaving time for this at the beginning of class, but reserve time for this after class so students can opt-out (both physically and mentally) should they choose.
  • While you might not know what to say, just sharing your intention to acknowledge the loss to our campus community is important. Be sure to recognize people vary in the way they respond to tragic events and how this may impact their learning in your class.
  • Hold a moment of silence to honor the loss.
  • You may wish to facilitate discussion related to the event. Some helpful suggestions on discussing a crisis can be found here.
  • Make any conversations related to the loss optional and easy to opt-out. You can offer other ways for students to check-in such as completing an optional exit-ticket to tell you how they are doing or offer individuals meeting times for them to express how the loss may be affecting their learning in your class.
  • Consider the best practices and recommendations for reporting on suicide as you broach this topic with your class.
  • Connect students to resources.
  • Students have access to free, confidential, counseling through Student Counseling Services (SCS). Students can also seek immediate support from SCS on campus on Monday- Friday 8 am to 4 pm, by seeking a walk-in appointment.
  • Students in crisis can use the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by calling or texting 988 (
  • People respond to grief in different ways and may experience difficulties in response to a loss for weeks or months later. Should you notice a student that seems to be having a difficult time, submit a CARES concern about the student so they can get proactive support.

Accommodate Students’ Needs

Students’ attention and cognitive capacity are likely reduced after a crisis, loss, or trauma. Consider ways you can be flexible in your course assignments and deadlines to allow for this likely reduced performance.
You might consider options such as:
  • Extending assignment deadlines
  • Dropping the lowest assignment grade for an assignment group
  • Allowing for revision & resubmission
  • Giving more time/more frequent breaks for students in longer class sessions
  • Reminding students of options for taking an incomplete or taking a withdrawal from a class
The above is drawn from information on how to respond to student deaths from the Stanford Teaching Commons. Find their full list of recommendations here. You may also find the Teaching in Times of Crisis toolkits from Northern Illinois University and Vanderbilt University for some helpful suggestions.