University of Waterloo president writes faculty, students about suicide

University of Waterloo president Feridun Hamdullahpur sent a letter to faculty and staff and students on Thursday afternoon, addressing the death by suicide of a 19-year-old student in a campus residence building on Monday, after students and faculty expressed concerns publicly over the lack of information.

President's letter says university has 22 full-time counsellors and 2 psychiatrists

Feridun Hamdullahpur, the president of the University of Waterloo. He wrote a letter to staff and students on Thursday, addressing the death by suicide of a student on Monday, after public outcry over the university's slow response. (Andrea Bellemare/CBC)

Public outcry from another death by suicide at the University of Waterloo — and the lack of information shared about the death — prompted the school's president to send a letter to faculty, staff and students on Thursday afternoon. 

The student's body was found Monday, marking the second time this year a student has died by suicide in a residence building. In January, an 18-year-old woman was found dead.

The deaths have sparked outcry from students, who launched a petition urging the university to change its approach to mental health. So far, over 7,900 students have signed.

"I have met with students and heard from faculty," said Feridun Hamdullahpur, the school's president. "I anticipate receiving an online petition, and numerous discussions are taking place in traditional and social media. This conversation requires many voices."

Lack of information

On Wednesday, Waterloo assistant professor Aimee Morrison wrote a blog post where she described finding out about the student's death through a thread posted on the University of Waterloo Reddit page.

"The thread extends for pages, an honest and brutal conversation that we are just not seeing anywhere else on campus," she wrote. "Have I received official notification of this? I have not." 

Hamdullahpur made a public statement about the student's death on Wednesday, published to the university's website, but it's not clear how widely the post circulated.

He noted that the university has 22 full-time counsellors, two psychiatrists, a mental health nurse and peer support groups, as well as 25 health centre professionals who "address mental health issues on a routine basis."

'More needs to be done'

Hamdullahpur also recognizes "more needs to be done."

"We need to provide leadership and find solutions that are specific to Waterloo," he wrote. "We expect to hear more from faculty, staff, alumni and especially students on what more we can do to support people who may be struggling with mental health issues. These efforts are already underway and will need to include input from all of us." 

Hamdullahpur's letter also seems to address the Reddit thread, and the discussion around the university's response to the family.

On that thread, a person who said he was the brother of the student, who had died, wrote that the university had not notified his family of the student's death — instead, police had notified the family.

CBC contacted the university to ask for a response, but did not receive a reply.

"When tragedies like this happen, the University's main concern first and foremost is the student's family," Hamdullahpur wrote. "We do not take lightly our obligation to ensure that they have been informed and do our upmost to respect their wishes. The University always reaches out to the families to offer any support they need. This is a very sad duty, but must be done." 

Tune in to The Morning Edition on 89.1 FM in Waterloo Region Friday at 7:50 a.m. to hear an interview with Aimee Morrison. You can also stream the program online here.


  • An earlier version of this story stated the letter was sent to faculty and staff. In fact, it was also sent to students.
    Mar 24, 2017 10:04 AM ET