Tragedy is mounting at USC. Over the weekend two students died from unknown causes, bringing the total number of students who have died since August to eight, including three suicides, according to USC’s chief health officer.
“I think what is remarkable about what is happening here is the number of student deaths that we’ve had in a compressed period of time," said Vice President of Student Affairs Winston Crisp. "That is uncommon and that is not something that I think very many people have a great deal of experience with.”
In a letter to the USC community sent Saturday, President Carol Folt and three university officials said that “there is a great deal of speculation about the causes of these deaths and most are being attributed to suicide. This is not correct. These tragic losses have resulted from a number of different causes. In some cases, the cause of death is still undetermined, and in others the loved ones do not want details disclosed.”
In interviews across campus with Annenberg Media, students called the email “confusing” and “counterintuitive," particularly for not revealing the cause of death. Angela Wang, a business administration undergraduate student, said her family had more questions than answers after reading Folt’s email.
“My dad forwarded that email to me, asking what happened and why there were ‘a number of student deaths.’ Since the email said the deaths have ‘resulted from a number of different causes,’ my parents are even more confused about what’s going on.”
“I think it’s better for the university to make it clear, or at least clarifies that those deaths are non-criminal in the letter to parents,” said Wang.
“We felt like it was really important to correct misinformation that we were hearing, in particular, that these students had died by suicide. So that was really the thinking behind it was that we wanted people to have accurate information,” said USC’s Chief Health Officer Dr. Sarah Van Orman in an interview with Annenberg Media on Monday.
“I want to be really clear. We’re not trying to hide anything from anybody," said Van Orman, who went on to acknowledge there has been an increase in suicide nationally for young adults and called the issue “complex."
Extended interview with USC’s Chief Health Officer Dr. Sarah Van Orman (Reported by Kelly Yeo and Matthew Kreiser)
USC DPS crime logs show that at least four students have been transported to the hospital since August "in apparent attempt[s] at suicide.”
Bissmun Gill, an undergraduate student who is Vice President of National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) at USC, called on the administration to increase its offering of resources in a statement.
“NAMI has worked with Engemann Student Health Center in the past to expand student counseling resources, but we still have a long way to go."
Update 12:15 p.m. Nov. 12: according to the DPS log, a student was found dead off-campus on Monday. It’s the 9th student death of this semester. DPS said the investigation is ongoing and the university said the cause is unknown at this point.
Students dealing with mental health issues can contact the 24/7 phone line (213) 740-9355 or can walk into USC Student Health centers for professional assistance. Students, faculty and staff members concerned about a fellow Trojan can notify Trojans Care 4 Trojans online or by calling (213) 821-4710. Faculty and staff members can reach out to the Center for Work and Family Life at (213) 821-0800.