Calling a crisis hotline is not easy. Asking for help is not easy. What should be easy for a resident assistant, however, is carrying out a wellness check on a student the first time her father calls out of concern for her well-being, seeing as that is the point of the job.
Instead, on Sept. 7, 2019, after 11 phone calls to Residential Housing staff over the span of seven hours, two calls to the Ohio University Police Department, or OUPD, and not receiving any responses when he frantically texted his daughter’s RA, Brad Airy was on his way to Athens from Dublin, Ohio. Around 9 p.m., he was informed that his daughter, freshman Jordyn Airy, was dead. Her death occurred at 6:40 p.m. and was ruled as a suicide by intoxication.
Ohio University spokesperson Carly Leatherwood’s only comment was that while what happened to Jordyn was tragic, the lawsuit Airy’s family filed against the University was “unfounded” and would be fought in court.
There are various ways that OU absolutely mangled its handling of Airy’s death and countless instances in which somebody could have acted but failed to: Airy’s father was told by OUPD they were too busy to talk to him. Her father was reprimanded by Housing staff for his persistent calls and was not informed of his daughter’s death until over two hours after her body was found.
Many argue this is not entirely Housing and Residence Life’s fault and that RAs are not trained or paid enough to handle such crises.
If this is true, then the university must implement a student crisis team to deal with such scenarios on scene or provide a greater focus on mental health in RA training.
However, there are questions that must be posed if this is the case: what is the point of an RA if not to ensure the well-being of students? Why is the scent of marijuana or students drinking in their dorms often more concerning than a student’s own father insisting his child is in a crisis?
If it is not the duty of the RA to prevent tragedies such as Airy’s, to really focus on the substance of the well-being of their residents, the title of RA is reduced to nothing.
College is a transitional period for students, especially underclassmen, and brings forth an array of emotional challenges that many have not experienced before. With 73% of students experiencing some sort of mental health crisis in their college years, it is dumbfounding that one would apply to be an RA without being prepared to deal with the mental health of residents, especially as mental health issues are more prominent in the underclassmen living under RA supervision in dorms.
Airy was also part of the Transition Success Program in Wilson Hall, aimed at ensuring the success of academically at-risk students. Seeing as mental health issues such as depression and substance abuse are associated with academic struggle, it does not make sense that extra care would not be taken to check in with Wilson Hall residents who are part of this program like Airy. It makes even less sense that a wellness check at the request of a student’s father in this context would not be carried out with immediacy.
Well-being includes mental and emotional well-being, which so often proves to be more fragile yet more overlooked than physical well-being, even at a school like OU that has put so much emphasis on mental health in recent years. However, allowing a student to die by suicide in the school’s care and then dodge any responsibility does not reflect this effort but proves to be much more “unfounded” than seeking accountability for the school’s negligence that resulted in a tragic, wrongful, preventable death.
Meg Diehl is a freshman studying journalism at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. What are your thoughts? Tell Meg by tweeting her at @irlbug.
Assistant Opinion Editor