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October 3, 2019 | by  | in News |
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VUW Hall Death: What We Know So Far

Salient has been informed that a student living in one of Victoria University of Wellington’s (VUW) halls of residence died at the hall in January 2018.

VUW confirmed to Salient in a statement that there was “a sudden death” of a student residing in the hall at that time.

Coroners told Salient that the case was still open, so were unable to obtain a report on the death. As such, the official time and cause of death is unavailable at the moment.

However, VUW informed Salient that “University records indicate around three days had passed between his death and the discovery of his death”.

Salient was also told that the relevant Hall Manager was on leave at the time of the incident, and that the University’s Associate Director of Halls was acting as Hall Manager in their place.

A Residential Advisor (RA) at the hall at the time told Salient that “people don’t understand how disruptive it is to your life.”

“I still probably think I have PTSD from that, to be honest,” they added.

They said the Head of Hall apologised to them for the lack of training.

VUW informed Salient that “all University critical incident policies and procedures were followed and support was provided to staff, students and family impacted by the tragedy”.

According to VUW, students in the hall were asked to be discreet, and not post on social media until next of kin had been informed of the death. VUW says police confirmed next of kin had been notified “within a matter of hours”. They say messaging around discretion ceased after this confirmation.

The RA who spoke to Salient said the death wasn’t publicised, and that no media reached out to them. They indicated that they had personal reservations about talking about it, out of respect for the student’s family.

The source that notified Salient of the death also expressed concern about changes undertaken to the structure of hall management and pastoral care in 2017, prior to the death.

A document from May 2017 outlined proposals to restructure university services, including halls of residence, with a focus on growing the student population, with hall growth as part of that.

The goals outlined in the proposals document aimed to double the student population at the university, and identified the university’s student accommodation portfolio as “a key enabler and supporter of recruitment and retention strategies for both the domestic and international markets”.

Regarding halls of residence, the document stated that it was “vital” that VUW develop a model to “self-fund growth over the next 10+ years”.

One of the “benefits” of the new model outlined in the documents was a “sustained period of growth moving from 5% net surplus (2018 budget) to a 20% net surplus by 2022”.

When asked by Salient whether changes to residential pastoral care had occured before the death in 2018, VUW confirmed that there had been changes made effective from 1 December 2017.

VUW says these were “the result of a full review of operations in Student and Campus Living during 2017”.

In that statement, VUW outlined changes flowing from that review. These included the establishment of an Infrastructure Team, to “free up Heads of Hall to focus on internal operation and pastoral care”.

Night managers were also introduced to halls to shift “responsibility for issue management away from Residential Advisors”. The intention behind these changes was to better equip RAs at triaging and escalating incidents to hall management.

Student Support Counsellors (who are registered medical professionals) were moved to report to Student Health and Student Counselling at the university to “better align with counsellors and medical staff, University wellbeing initiatives and expert support”.

VUW says their critical incident procedures also saw a comprehensive review.

It is important to note that, while the changes outlined in that statement roughly match those outlined in the May 2017 proposal document, Salient currently has no other evidence that the affected changes were a product of those specific May 2017 proposals.

When asked if the hall had made changes to pastoral care since the incident in January 2018, VUW informed Salient that the “event in January 2018 did not spark a review of our pastoral care processes”.

However, VUW says changes were made after that date. These changes were, according to the university, “to ensure only the onsite person in charge enters the room of a missing resident”.

VUW says this was done “to prevent more junior staff potentially being exposed to a distressing scene, adding that they “continuously review what we do in this area and respond to any recommendations from the Coroners Court.”

“The wellbeing of residents in University accommodation is of the utmost importance to Victoria University of Wellington,” the University says.

They added, “cases such as the sudden death which took place in January 2018 are always distressing and difficult for staff and students and the University has full confidence in the processes and procedures that were followed.”

If you would like to contact Salient about this, or similar stories, please email news@salient.org.nz. All emails are anonymous on request.

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with their mental health you can contact the numbers below:
VUW Counselling – 04 463 5310
Depression Helpline – 0800 111 757
Outline (LGBTQIA+) – 0800 688 5463
Free call or text 1737 anytime for support from a trained counsellor
Lifeline – 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP)
Youthline (for youth) – 0800 376 633 or free text 234
Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)

If you, or someone you know, having a health problems you can contact the numbers below:
Healthline – 0800 611 116 to talk to a registered nurse
Mauri Ora Student Health – 04-463 5308
Campus Security Office – 0800 842 8888

Call 111 in an emergency

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