Three student deaths in three months confounds George Washington University

Three George Washington University students who lived in a dormitory in the Foxhall neighborhood of Northwest Washington have died in the past three months, prompting the university to mobilize counseling services for its Mount Vernon campus.

University President Steven Knapp said in an announcement to the GWU community that two of the deaths occurred last week. Another occurred in January. He did not describe the cause of the deaths but said no criminal acts were believed to be involved in any of them.

The GW Hatchet student newspaper reported that two of the three deaths have been labeled as suicides. The deaths have shaken West Hall, which houses about 280 students.

Knapp acknowledged the unusual confluence in a letter sent Friday to parents of GWU students.

“In my 20 years in the administrations of two universities, I have from time to time had the very sad duty of meeting with a student’s grieving family and friends, but I have never before experienced two such tragedies in a single week,” Knapp wrote. “I want to make sure you are fully aware of everything we are doing to respond to these devastating losses and to ensure that all our students are receiving the help they need in dealing with them.”

Knapp said GWU is seeking advice from “within and beyond the university” to support its students with counseling and other services.

Suicide prevention is a priority on campuses across the country as colleges and universities seek to help students through personal crises. But every year cases arise, often drawing no publicity.

Peter Konwerski, GWU’s vice provost and dean of student affairs, said the university will involve its public health and medical faculty as well as other experts to help students through the spring term, “increasing outreach and support at every level.”

D.C. authorities have indicated that there is no sign that the deaths at West Hall were related. Konwerski said the university could not speculate on any possible connections. “It is unclear at this point,” he said. “It’s certainly something we’re looking at.”

A former Post education editor, Nick writes about college from the perspective of a father of three who will soon be buried in tuition bills.
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