Monday 24 October 2016

University family has rallied to support students devastated by these deaths

Bairbre Redmond

Published 20/06/2015 | 02:30

Students console each other in UCD yesterday
Students console each other in UCD yesterday

When our college offspring head off for the summer to work and explore far-flung corners of the world, we never expect a tragedy such as the collapse of the balcony with 13 students to happen.

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Our hearts and prayers go out to the students who lost their lives, to those who have sustained injuries, and to those who were there and are traumatised by the experience.

We are also acutely aware of the immeasurable grief experienced by the families who have lost loved ones.

Because we work in an environment of 25,000 students, some 19,000 of them undergraduates, we have plans and protocols in place to support students and their families faced with bereavement and critical injury.

On the ground here in Dublin, we bring together a group of people who take specific responsibility for different support functions, including student representatives, student advisors, communication professionals, heads of schools and Deans.

Our primary concern is the immediate care of our students but we must also consider how best to meet their longer-term needs when they come back to campus.

This week, we were very fortunate to have a staffed office in San Francisco and our manager there dropped everything to seek out and support the students who were not injured but were badly affected by the event.

It was a great comfort to us to know that the Department of Foreign Affairs and specifically the Consul General in San Francisco had mobilised to take care of the families of the students who died and were injured.

They have excellent contacts on the ground and quickly brought forward the support of the Irish Immigration Centre, the local parish and other community organisations.

When a tragedy of this scale happens in Ireland, we mobilise our support services so, separately, we got in touch with Paulette Greisner, University of California Education Abroad Programme, and she arranged that Dr Gloria Saito, University of California, Berkeley, would make available their equivalent counselling and psychological services.

This team have been on the ground with the Irish students in police stations, in hospitals and on their campus.

Our staff on the ground in Berkeley have really appreciated their support.

One of the most moving aspects of this awful tragedy has been the spontaneous outpouring of support from other students.

We opened our online book of condolences earlier this week and within a day more than 10,000 people had taken the time to share their thoughts and sympathy with us.

Nothing can take away the pain of this terrible loss. However, through planned support and services, UCD sets out to meet the different needs of our students, both in these immediate sad days and as they continue longer term with us in the university.

As large as UCD may seem to be, we always try to reach out in a personal way to those who are grieving within our community.

Yesterday, President Michael D Higgins and his wife Sabina joined hundreds of staff, students, friends and family for a memorial service at the university where Lorcan Miller and Eimear Walsh were both third-year medical students at UCD, and Niccolai Schuster was a second-year history and politics student.

UCD President Andrew Deeks recalled how he broke the news while a conferral ceremony was underway.

"Our routine was shattered by the news of the terrible tragedy.

"We've lost six wonderful young people and the lives of a generation of students were completely changed," he said.

"Those of us who have dedicated our lives to the education of the next generation expect to nurture them, to watch them as they grow into global citizens."

Professor Bairbre Redmond is Dean of Undergraduate Students at UCD.

Irish Independent

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