'Losing any student is difficult,' says University of Guelph VP after 4th student death in 3 months

In the span of three months, four University of Guelph students have died under tragic circumstances. University of Guelph associate vice president of student affairs Brenda Whiteside says students are offered counselling and faculty and staff have opened their doors to help.

Strong U of G community helping students cope, school's associate vice president of student affairs says

Kaya Firth and Zach Sutherland died while kayaking on the Credit River in February. The University of Guelph students were a couple who were fondly remembered by their classmates. (Facebook)

Four University of Guelph students have died in the span of three months under tragic circumstances. 

"Losing any student is difficult. I think four is unusual for us," Brenda Whiteside, the university's associate vice president of student affairs, told The Morning Edition host Craig Norris Monday.

Grace Glofcheskie was killed in a hit-and-run in December. Kaya Firth and and Zach Sutherland died after they went kayaking on the Credit River last month. Most recently, Eric Nielsen died Thursday after the truck he was driving struck a hydro pole.

All the students were involved in the campus community either through sports, helping fellow classmates, the student newspaper or the school's racecar team.

Grace Glofcheskie, right, was killed in a hit and run in December. A man has been charged in her death. (Facebook)

"Each student is different, they're from different colleges and they're different sets of students and so, each one we've been dealing with as if it's a standalone individual student and trying to support their friends and family," Whiteside said.

Staff help students mourn, remember

There are more than 22,000 students enrolled at the university, but Whiteside said it's still a small community in some ways.

"One of the strengths we have is that we're a very strong community. It's been actually quite humbling to watch the way the community just kind of unfolds ... and is there to help. We have counselling, we have student support network, we've had faculty who've been really supporting students, coaches being there for them with open doors, just letting them come in, deferring exams, deferring assignments, just giving them time to grieve," she said.

These are young, vibrant people.- Brenda Whiteside, University of Guelph associate vice president of student affairs

She said in one case, after the deaths of Firth and Sutherland, a staff member took food to a group of their friends and just gave them time to share memories and grieve together.

For Glofcheskie's memorial in January, Whiteside said faculty offered support to the students who planned the event.

"In cases like this, we often find that the best thing we can do is facilitate opportunities for students to get together," she said.

'It doesn't get easier'

Whiteside issues statements on behalf of the university after a student death. She said one particularly bad year, she had to do that seven times.

"I remember my first time when I started this job, the first loss of a student, and thought, 'You know what, it'll get easier,' and it doesn't get easier," Whiteside said. "These are young, vibrant people."

Eric Nielsen died March 3 after his truck struck a hydro pole on Stone Road East, just east of Watson Road. (Gryphon Racing/Facebook)


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