In Philosophy professor Shelly Kagan’s class “Death,” the accident last Friday that killed four Yale students seemed impossible to avoid.
“In a class on civics, you could pass over it in silence,” Kagan said. “In a class on death, to pass over the deaths of four students — would have been weird and almost unthinkable or grotesque.”
Kagan brought up the tragedy at the beginning of his philosophy class Tuesday, saying his wife sometimes came to him in times of grief looking to him for answers.
“Here I am, this great authority on death, and why don’t I have anything helpful to say about this?” Kagan said. “And the fact is, I don’t.”
Instead, Kagan said he hoped the students killed in the accident had lived lives they could be proud of, that they would serve as an inspiration to their friends, and that their relatives would be comforted. Then, he moved into his lecture.
Like Kagan, students, faculty and administrators tried to make the difficult transition this week back to a normal routine. Classes resumed, games and events delayed because of the accident were rescheduled, and bereaved classmates tried to pick up the pieces of their lives.
Jason Cabico ’04 said the atmosphere on campus last Friday was somber and that his residential college experienced a heightened sense of community. But he said the mood changed as the week progressed.
“I think that as tragic as it was, people aren’t as sensitized to it now as they were at the beginning of the week,” Cabico said. “There just wasn’t the time to dwell on it.”
Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead said he wanted administrators to have no illusions about the length of the grieving process.
“We spent a good deal of time talking about how this isn’t something that’s going to be over in a day or a week,” Brodhead said. “We want people to understand how many places there are to turn to when the time comes and you need it.”
Brodhead then listed a number of people who students could look to for advice, including college deans, freshman counselors, the Chaplain’s office, coaches’ offices, and the Mental Hygiene Department at University Health Services.
Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg said programs to help students deal with grief would be available as long as they were needed.
“The long term will be exactly what it’s been until now,” Trachtenberg said. “It depends on students … and feedback we get. It’s something we watch very closely and deal with accordingly. It’s not something you can quantify and foresee.”
Brodhead also contacted Yale faculty members by e-mail and offered advice on how they could best help students cope.
“There was a letter from Dean Brodhead — encouraging all of us to keep our eyes open and make ourselves available,” Kagan said.
Other professors felt compelled to address the accident as well.
On Friday, History professor Laura Engelstein stopped her “Russia, 1825 to the Present” lecture and confronted a student who was talking on his cell phone. After the lecture, the student told Engelstein the call had been about the crash. At the next lecture on Wednesday, Engelstein, who had not known about the accident during the Friday lecture, told students she was sorry if she had seemed callous. She praised the actions of Yale students over the weekend, said Jeff Sandberg ’04, a student in the class.
“She said it showed the real strength of the community in times like this,” Sandberg said. “She was very tactful.”
Residential college masters and deans were also encouraged to reach out to students. After a gathering Friday night in the John J. Lee Amphitheater, masters invited students to their homes for smaller gatherings. There, the masters made a special effort to find those who were especially close to the four who were killed.
“Depending on who we know in our colleges, who are attached to [Delta Kappa Epsilon] or are on the various teams — we’ve just been reaching out in our own way to those folks,” Silliman Master Judith Krauss said.
Krauss said she expected the grief from the tragedy to continue.
“I think it will unfold in the next weeks and months as events go on to remind us that people are missing,” Krauss said.
But, Krauss said, she saw some improvement in the mood of students.
“It’s way too early to say we’ve moved on to acceptance,” Krauss said. “But I’ve seen signs that people are coming out of the shock of it.”
Some of the students injured in the accident have begun taking steps toward resuming their lives. Zachery Bradley ’05 was discharged Monday from Bridgeport Hospital. Cameron Fine ’06 and Christopher Gary ’06 were taken to UHS on Tuesday and Saturday, respectively.
Alberto Boquin ’06, suitemate of both Fine and Gary, said both were improving.
“Physically, they’re doing okay,” Boquin said. “Chris is walking around.”
Both students are currently staying in UHS to keep from overexerting themselves, Boquin said, but are expected to return to their suite sometime next week. They have also resumed some of their classwork.
“They are going to the math class that’s right across the street from the hospital,” Boquin said. “They’ve stopped by the suite to pick up books and stuff.”