Dealing with death
Student affairs helps students cope with horrific suicide
Published: Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 20, 2012 13:09
Several FGCU students recently watched as an 18-year-old leaped to his death off a third-story balcony. Now, the Student Affairs department is doing everything in its power to help them cope with their grief.
“Grieving is a really personal process, and it’s important to know that the University has resources available to help students cope,” Dean of Students Michele Yovanovich said.
Horrific events aren’t common at FGCU, but when they do happen, a well-organized support system steps forward. Along with the Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) program, students are able to find solace through the Internet and each other.
At FGCU, counseling is offered for free to students who need to talk, but it is especially recommended for students who’ve suffered through a traumatic experience while in school.
“The way the University responds depends on how close that person was to the situation and how much they need from us,” Yovanovich said. “We have the counseling center [CAPS] that all students are referred (to). We do reach out to them to offer our services.”
Student Affairs and CAPS recently contacted FGCU student Justin Kingsland after his roommate, Sean Cavanaugh, jumped to his death at Coastal Village.
Kingsland said he witnessed Cavanaugh slip into a drug-induced fit of rage, screaming at the group of people at their apartment. Cavanaugh got into an altercation with FGCU student Cameron Keller and stabbed him with a broken bottle. Then Cavanaugh ran to another building and went to a third floor balcony.
Kingsland said Cavanaugh yelled, “I’m going to kill myself.” Cavanaugh jumped, hitting the second floor before landing face first on the ground.
“(My roommates and I) talked to CAPS, and I think I’m going to go in,” says Kingsland.
Even though Kingsland plans on using the services provided by the school, he still relies on fellow Eagles for support.
“We’ve all been here for each other,” he said.
There are occasions when Student Affairs is unable to contact all of the students involved in a horrific event in order to offer their services.
“We received an e-mail that this student who was friends with [Sean Cavanaugh] experienced trauma… That was a name our office didn’t have. We try to do a good job in finding who was affected by the tragedy, but we never know the scale,“ Yovanovich said.
Counseling isn’t everyone’s first choice when it comes to grieving. When FGCU graduate Nick Masiello learned about the drowning death of his classmate and neighbor Joel Johnson last year, the school counselors were not the first place he turned.
“I didn’t think I needed to see a counselor. It was easier for me to talk to my friends than a complete stranger. They knew what I was going through,” Masiello said.
He asserts the support of the student body in the wake of a fellow Eagles’ death is what kept him sane.
“[Having other students there] did make it easier,” Masiello said. “Some people were taking it worse and some were taking it better. We kept each other level headed.”
Another avenue students use to grieve is social networking sites such as Facebook or the homepage of a student’s obituary. Often students create a memorial page where they can console each other and leave messages for the deceased.
“I can still hear your laugh. I still remember us poking fun at Mr. Augenstein just a few months ago. I’ll never forget you, Sean,” posts friend Zachary Allison on Cavanaugh’s Florida Times obituary.
Yovanovich says social media, such as Facebook, also help Student Affairs and CAPS locate students who are suffering and might have been overlooked.
“Facebook can be very effective. If a student passes away, we’ll look at their Facebook to see if we missed anything,” she said.
While the condolences come pouring in for the friends and family of a lost student, many of the witnesses are simply trying to move on with their lives.
Rachel Clark, one of the last people to see Sean Cavanaugh alive, is trying to keep moving forward.
“You have to keep going,” she said. “Stuff happens, but you can’t let it get you down. You don’t just give up.”
The road to recovery for all who suffer a tragic loss or witness a horrific event is long and strenuous. Sometimes it never fully comes at all, but with the help and support of friends, family and an entire student body, the pain seems a little less daunting.