UVic comes together in sorrow and support

- University of Victoria

Community gathering on Sept. 17. Credit: UVic Photo Services

Approximately 300 people gathered in the heart of the University of Victoria’s campus on Sept. 17 to be with each other for comfort, healing and reflection following the devastating bus accident in which two students died and several were injured.

The tone was set by a powerful welcome, blessing and prayer by Tsartlip Elder May Sam, who urged those assembled to take care of each other during this difficult time.

Sam, who expressed love and compassion in her moving remarks said she was thankful to be invited “to make sure that you’re safe and that you’re all coming together and holding each other up.”

The BiblioCafé was filled to capacity by students, family members, faculty and staff who also heard from UVic Chancellor Shelagh Rogers who said it was a “beautiful outpouring of support” to see how people who don’t know each other come together “to express solidarity, to express your sadness.”

She urged people to take advantage of the healing benefits of the nature that surrounds UVic, noting the university’s location is one of the reasons people choose to come here.

The university community has been in mourning since a tragic accident on the evening of Sept. 13 in which two students died and several others were injured while on a field trip to the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre, a research and teaching facility on the west coast of Vancouver Island. While some students were treated for injuries and returned to UVic on Sept. 14, one student remains in hospital. A total of 47 UVic passengers were on board.

View of the outside of the Biblio Cafe
View of UVic's BiblioCafé. Credit: UVic Photo Services.

Support ongoing

University support and outreach staff met the students on their return to campus and provided a space for them and their family members to reunite and learn about the counselling, health services and other resources including academic accommodations. Individual care plans have been developed to meet the students’ complex and ongoing needs.

First-year biology students John Geerdes, 18, from Iowa City, Iowa, and Emma Machado, also 18, from Winnipeg, Manitoba, died at the scene.

UVic President Jamie Cassels told those at the intimate campus gathering that “Emma and John were taken far too soon and we are so sorry for this loss.

“Along with you and others who are here, as this university’s president—and as a father—my heart aches for the families, loved ones, friends and classmates of the two students who died,” said Cassels.  “Your university is seeking to do everything we can to help the students who were on the bus, and those closest to them, through this difficult situation.”

Jonathan Granirer, director of outreach and university relations at University of Victoria Students’ Society (UVSS), told those gathered about the importance of finding comfort with friends, and building those connections especially when newly arrived on campus.

 “If you need support and haven’t asked for it, please ask for it,” he said, noting that the UVSS has a wide range of clubs to find people with similar interests to forge new friendships.

The university is reminding all students, faculty and staff of the resources available including extended hours this week at  MultiFaith Services, also known as the Interfaith Chapel, which has provided a space for quiet reflection.

Students can access counselling support through Counselling Services, while faculty and staff can seek support through the Employee and Family Assistance Program. Other resources include UVic’s Health Services and Indigenous support services.

Review underway

While the university’s priority in the first few days was to respond to the complex needs of the students and their families, a review began earlier this week into the circumstances around the bus accident. The RCMP investigation once completed will also provide valuable information.

“Very soon after the university was informed about the accident, we knew that we wanted to fully understand what happened,” said Gayle Gorrill, vice-president of finance and operations.

“The safety of our students is extremely important to us at UVic. Whenever there are situations such as this tragedy, we need to learn from them.”

The fall field trip to the research centre is an optional two-day offering that provides research and learning activities at the world-class teaching and research facility that is an oceanside campus owned by UVic, the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, University of Calgary and University of Alberta. The fall field trip has been held for at least 18 years.

The only other UVic trip this term to the research centre is in late October. Gorrill said the outcomes of the review will inform decisions around transportation for this and other future trips.

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Keywords: administrative, community

Publication: The Ring

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