College myth about roommate death

by Jeremy Taff

Almost every freshman has heard the rumor upon entering the University: While attending college, if a student’s roommate dies, the administration must grant he or she straight A’s across the board.
While administrators tried to contain their laughter upon hearing the proposition, the urban legend has spread across this nation’s college campuses since the 1970s. The legend has gained several believers — to the point where a movie based on the alleged clause, “Dead Man on Campus” — premieres Friday.
Various versions of the clause abound. Some versions say students are awarded only a 3.0, or simply first choice in the residence hall “room draw.” In every case, however, murdering one’s roommate is cause for disqualification.
“Students have never been guaranteed that they’d get straight A’s or anything like that,” said Jane Canney, associate vice president for Student Development and Athletics. “Sometimes students will have to withdraw or cut back on courses and will have to meet with a counselor,” she said.
Canney said in the case of a death on campus, a group of 12 psychiatrists, ministers, administrators and health care professionals across campus, called the Death Response Team, are brought in to aid students, faculty and staff.
Ralph Rickgarn, executive assistant for the Department of Housing and Residential Life, started the team in 1984.
“If a student’s roommate dies, we tell them to go to a faculty member,” Rickgarn said. “We tell them to say this is what happened, I’m pretty stressed out, can I delay this test until I gain my composure and go through the grieving process.”
Rickgarn said faculty members will occasionally call the team to make sure the claim is legitimate. The group handles a minimum of three to four deaths per year.
Rod Loper, psychology professor working in University Counseling and Consulting Services, currently heads up the team from his spacious second-floor office in Eddy Hall.
“You may get a 4.0 in life, but you don’t get a 4.0 in class,” Loper said. “Successfully negotiating the experience of loss can give you a very important learning experience.”
Loper said it is more likely for a student’s grade point average to drop after the death of a roommate, particularly if the student committed suicide or was murdered.
“That would be one of the most hellish ways to get a 4.0,” Loper said. “Lots o’ luck.”
Author Jan Harold Brunvand researched the legend for his book on urban legends entitled “Curses! Broiled Again!”
“If there’s a college campus in the country that does not have a ‘suicide rule’ legend, I’ve yet to discover it,” Brunvand writes. “And if there’s (a school) that does have such a rule on the books, I haven’t found it yet either.”