“Red line” or “Job descriptions don’t matter”

When I struggle to tell people what I do for my job, it’s mostly because I could answer with what I’m supposed to do, or I could go through the hours of each day that are consumed with what I really do. This isn’t always a bad thing…it’s just a reality–both a blessing and a curse. At least it keeps things interesting.

One of my responsibilities–not assigned, just assumed–is to follow up on the "General Inquiry" e-mails we receive through our Web site. In our Contact Us section, we have forms for people with questions regarding undergraduate studies, graduate studies, degree completion, transferring, getting certified to teach and general questions that don’t fall into those categories. I handle the general questions; the rest are routed to other people. I mostly just forward the ones I get to the appropriate personnel.

Yesterday morning as I was sifting through those e-mails, I came across a really unique one. A person had forwarded an anonymous suicide note he or she discovered on the Internet and had traced to the arbor.edu network. It read:

One of your students has posted a [note] expressing his/her intention to commit
suicide this thanksgiving holiday in a Usenet newsgroup. Details below. I hope
you can locate and help this individual.

Yikes. Wasn’t sure if it was a hoax or not, but you obviously have to assume the worst in those situations. The "details below" seemed legit enough.

After alerting the appropriate big-wigs, I did everything in my knowledge to track down the supposed student. Thankfully, the student was a fairly active Internet user and poster on discussion boards and blogs. Using the e-mail address associated with the student’s identity on the Usenet group, I discovered the student looking for tips on giving a valedictorian speech at graduation–and even read the rough draft of the speech, in which I discovered the high school the student attended.

Student development staff have talked with the student, who is meeting with a professional today. Parents are being notified. Suicide plans called for it to take place over Thanksgiving break. Pray it isn’t so.

By Joel Maust

Joel Maust is a marketer, blogger and photographer living in the beautiful Flathead Valley of northwest Montana.

2 replies on ““Red line” or “Job descriptions don’t matter””

If its ok, i’m going to step into my HD role for a sec. Our counseling center tells us that anyone involved with dealing with a suicide situation, regardless of the intensity of the role, has dealt with a huge load of stress. So, don’t forget to take time for you to debrief, unload, destress… from your role in helping this student. Also, have hope – students who tell someone about their thoughts – or make a threat – have a better chance of getting the help they need. You did an amazing job! Good work!

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