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OSU students ‘not invincible’

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Few things in life prepare you for the harsh reality of death. Ohio State students are not immune to this inevitable misfortune.

Last Thursday, Ryan Williams, a fourth-year in engineering, died in a motorcycle accident. Williams was 23. Williams’ death was not the first to affect the OSU community in the last three months. Anthony Erick, a fourth-year in chemical engineering, died over spring break on March 23. Erick was 21. Christopher Koger, a fourth-year in English, died of meningitis on March 11. Koger was 23. Jake Nickle, a volunteer on the OSU football team’s strength and conditioning staff, collapsed and passed away during a pickup basketball game on Feb. 25. Nickle was 22.

Ruth Gerstner, the director of communication for the Office of Student Life, spoke about the recent string of deaths at OSU.

“We do have 56,000 students, so statistically this is not a high number of deaths,” Gerstner said.

Gerstner said 18 students have passed away this academic year, and the average number of deaths per year at OSU is about 15-20.

Although statistically, death is inevitable, the fact still remains that student deaths are shocking, devastating and unexpected, especially given the students’ age.

Coincidentally, three of these students were close to graduation, and in Nickle’s case, a recent college graduate.

Arielle Cummings, a first-year in exploration, expressed her thoughts on student deaths.

“It’s sad when college students die, because they have their whole lives ahead of them,” Cummings said.

The three most common causes of student death are accident, suicide and illness, said Karen Kyle, the director of OSU’s student advocacy center. She said last year, 12 students passed away and the previous year, 18 students died.

At OSU, one resource closely related to death is the Counseling and Consultation Services department. Jeeseon Park-Saltzman, a clinical therapist at CCS, said the main purpose of the department is to provide individual and group counseling to students. Park-Saltzman said the role of the department increases when there is a student death.

“We work closely with the Student Advocacy Center to provide grief counseling for students,” Park-Saltzman said.

Park-Saltzman said CCS generally reaches out to the groups or organizations with which the student was involved. They then generally lead a debriefing session on the situation and assist anyone needing additional counseling. She said the center has urgent walk-in appointments every hour during business hours.

“(CCS) gives priority to students affected by death,” Park-Saltzman said.

Kyle said the Student Advocacy Center holds a non-denominational service in memory of students who pass away during the school year. She said the event this year is planned for May 19 at 7 p.m. in the Interfaith Room at the Ohio Union.

“The event is an opportunity to bring the families together, to remind them that the OSU community supports them,” Kyle said.

Meredith Mahilo, a Northeastern Ohio Universities Colleges of Medicine and Pharmacy medical student currently taking classes at OSU, said death is no more frequent here than anywhere else.

Steve Orlando, spokesman for the University of Florida, said the average number of deaths at Florida is comparable to the number at OSU. He said Florida averages about 15-25 deaths per year, said the university has had 17 deaths this year.

Diana Bejarano, a spokeswoman for Arizona State University said the numbers at her school are also comparable to OSU.

“Twelve students passed away in all four campuses at the university this past academic year,” Bejarano said.

As of Autumn 2010, Arizona State had the largest enrollment of U.S. universities with 58,371. OSU had the third highest with 56,064 and Florida had the sixth most with 49,827, according to OSU’s statistical summary sheet provided by the University Registrar.

Mahilo said the social cohesiveness at OSU raises the awareness of student deaths on campus. She said the awareness adds to the perception that the death total is higher than it actually is.

“It’s tragic whenever any young person dies. They had so many hopes and dreams,” Mahilo said. “Young people are more inclined to death. Students need to realize, ‘I am not invincible. I’m vulnerable like anyone else.'”

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