Book by Heather L. Servaty-Seib and Deborah J. Taub
Review by Betty J. Sanford
Office of Supportive Services
Michigan State University
Experiences garnered from my advising caseload at a Big Ten University led me to believe that only 10% of the student body has bereavement needs. Thus, assertion that 30% of college students are in their first year of bereavement was counterintuitive to my experiences. Service providers with limited bereavement knowledge who seek a holistic approach to address student needs will value the authors’ comprehensive coverage that ranges from discussing students’ developmental responses to bereavement to calling for colleges to establish a Death Response Team.
The editors frame bereavement within psychosocial and cognitive development theory. Psychosocial theory highlights students’ responses within the context of their intellectual and interpersonal competence and their emotional independence. Cognitive theory ties students’ responses to their thinking. Students are more adaptable who have progressed from dualistic thinking in which they believe there is only one correct way to grieve, to relativism where they validate multiple responses.
We also gain a contextual perspective of bereavement through various examples of how campus ecology and student characteristics influence bereavement adjustment. Students’ development and the campus environment will determine how well they handle prolonged grief, and how they feel about institutional and peer support.
Peer support can play a crucial role in helping students brace themselves against a loss. I advise a diverse group of students who are largely African American and who report that they rely heavily on their peers for bereavement support. Thus, research findings that bereaved students do not find their peers supportive was incongruent with my experience. Later authors inform readers that 90% of the research respondents were Caucasian students and African American students reported experiencing peer support (p. 35). When reporting varying statistics, it would be less jolting if readers were alerted to any additional data that would qualify or expand on what was reported earlier. Some reference was made to ethnic groups, but an in-depth discussion on gender differences in bereavement was noticeably absent.
Readers will gain some insight into bereavement with regards to students’ developmental and ecological circumstances. Roth reveals the flood of emotions from the natural anesthetic affect and fluctuation of feelings between guilt and anger to physical responses including the loss of appetite and restlessness (p. 17). Convincingly, contributing authors and Roth agree that working through death requires establishing a new state of normalcy.
Information for training faculty and other service providers is useful as is knowing that FERPA (Federal Educational Rights Privacy Act) does not apply to the deceased. Readers learn the importance of steering students away from romanticizing and glamorizing suicidal death, and that it is important to help students through disenfranchised, undisclosed, grief.
Lastly, the authors assert that each campus needs a Death Response Team and they leave readers with a Death Response Team Check List which dictates how to handle a myriad of sensitive details. Readers will find the outline of protocol useful regardless of whether we are responding to a student’s death or that of a student’s loved one, and whether a death occurred on or off campus. This resourceful guide arms providers with information necessary to support students or the institution under delicate circumstances.
Roth, D. (1988). Stepping Stones to Grief Recovery. ISB Press, Santa Monica.
Assisting Bereaved College Students (2008) Book by Heather L. Servaty-Seib and Deborah J. Taub, Eds. Review by Betty J. Sanford. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 95 pp. $29.00. ISBN#: 978-0-470-29539-7