Towson University is the first institution in the University System of Maryland to adopt an official university student bereavement procedure.
Signed by TU officials on Feb. 27, the new practice, which goes into effect Aug. 1, allows students to take five days off to grieve the loss of “an individual with a significant relationship.” Two additional days for travel are also allotted.
“Significant relationships” may include, but are not limited to, parents; legal guardians; spouses or legal union partners; siblings; children; uncles, aunts; cousins; nieces; nephews; in-laws; and step-relations.
Students opting to use the bereavement procedure will be given a “reasonable amount” of days to make up missed academic work. They are encouraged to be in constant communication with their professors that make-up work, or extensions on assignment deadlines.
Proof of death, such as an obituary, death certificate or funeral service program, is required. Both undergraduate and graduate students are covered under the procedure.
Associate Vice President for Campus Life Teri Hall has long worked with the provost’s office to help students in mourning, but she’s pleased TU has formalized the procedure.
“We’re an institution that values community and caring for each other,” says Hall, “and so [the bereavement procedure] is in line with the acknowledgment that this is who we are.”
Towson is not the first public university in the state to implement such a procedure; Morgan State University has a similar, but smaller, process. But Morgan State is not a USM institution.
“We know that five days off and two travel days isn’t enough for a student to really get over the loss of a parent or grandparent or someone significant to them,” says Hall, “but it at least is a sign of the commitment from the institution that we understand as much as we can.”
Former Student Government Association Chief of Staff Kennard Wallace ’14 says a 2011 incident, in which a student felt unfairly treated after his grandmother’s death, motivated Wallace and other SGA representatives to formalize an academic procedure for bereavement with the university. He and a student committee researched college students’ mental health while mourning, as well as bereavement practices at other universities. They drafted the document the university later officially adopted.
“This is something that’s very beneficial for our students and our university as a whole,” says Wallace, “and I’m glad that other universities are looking at Towson University as a leader in this initiative.”
Creating the bereavement practice as a procedure allows it the flexibility to meet the individual needs of students who may work with professors to take fewer or additional days, if necessary. Wallace says this is different from a policy in an important way. “A policy is very structured and very rigid. A procedure flows.”
As Towson’s current Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC) Student Advisory Council representative, Wallace has been sharing TU’s experience with officials from other campuses and reports increasing support for getting bereavement procedures on the books and actively promoted at other institutions.
“Three years ago we started with just this one young man coming into our SGA meeting,” says Wallace, “and now, in possibly another calendar year, this could be implemented statewide.”