A Moment to Grieve (What I Wish the Emails Would Say)
Caris White reflects on the recent losses of Dartmouth students.
It feels like we’re not at the age where we should be losing peers this often. Within the past six months, three Dartmouth students have died. None of them had even celebrated their 21st birthday.
Three people sounds like a small number in the face of the staggering amount of death this year. Millions of people have died from COVID-19, and I realize that for many at Dartmouth, our three peers are not the only people they have lost recently. However, with the unexpected deaths of Beau, Connor and Lamees fresh in my mind, I wanted to take a moment to engage with the grief of these tragedies.
I was thirteen the first time one of my friends died. I still remember the feeling of blank shock when I realized that my childhood friend had stopped existing on a random Tuesday afternoon. I also remember feeling a strange, toxic mix of grief, confusion and guilt wash over me in the weeks and months after his suicide. He was my friend, yes, but I hadn’t talked to him regularly since he switched schools. I knew his mom and had done class projects at his house, but who was I to be devastated? We hadn’t been close in years. Then, an equally concerning thought would creep in, that maybe I wasn’t devastated enough.
Who gets to grieve, and how much? At thirteen, I was kept up at night by these questions, and although I wish they weren’t, I know they’ve been on my mind again — and maybe on some of yours — over the last six months.
Sometimes, after a catastrophically sad moment, it can be helpful to remind ourselves that the world keeps turning, and that this too shall pass. However, I think that Dartmouth has leaned too far into this approach. The blame sits partially on our ten-week terms, which has an unrelenting pace that forces students to keep up or fail out — after all, there is no time to process grief if you have a midterm in two days. However, we can’t and shouldn’t blame everything on the academic calendar.
To the Dartmouth administration: listserv emails aren’t good enough. It is not enough to write a few hundred words, click send and expect students to just work it out. We deserve better. Grieving takes time, and that feels like the one thing Dartmouth is unwilling to give us — it’s also the thing I’ve personally found it hardest to give myself.
Instead of moving forward, I want to take a moment to grieve. I know that what I write will be imperfect, but I hope that putting my thoughts into words will help document the significance of these tragedies, even if it’s only in part.
So, this is what I wish the emails would say.
We are so very sorry that the world you live in is grim, and we apologize for the ways our own lack of transparency has exacerbated it. We acknowledge that life is not normal, that nothing about this situation is normal, and we refuse to act like it is.
Three of your classmates have died, three promising young lives were prematurely extinguished, and the show cannot possibly go on uninterrupted. Dartmouth has long prided itself on being a tight-knit community, and in many ways, that closeness has been a promise unfulfilled this year. For that failure, we are deeply sorry, and we are committed to doing better despite the challenges of pandemic life. We acknowledge that the shockwaves of these tragedies will not dissipate quickly, and we are going to change our plans accordingly. As an institution, our judgement is not infallible, and the past year has made that abundantly clear.
As students, you deserve respect, compassion and honesty. We want you all to know that we stand with you — not against you — in this situation where it seems like everything has gone wrong, and we are committed to creating time and space for your grief.
Dartmouth’s commitment to students’ well-being is as important as its commitment to students’ successes, and I think we could all benefit from clarifying that those two words are not necessarily synonymous. Most of all, I wish that Dartmouth would choose to stop and process — even just for a moment — instead of continuing its unrelenting march forwards.
I hope that what I’ve written isn’t just a read-through email, and that it might inspire a period of reflection. I’ve needed to take a moment to grieve for a while now, and I think, maybe, the rest of us needed that too.