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ERIC Number: ED539842
Record Type: Non-Journal
Publication Date: 2011-Nov-19
Pages: 36
Abstractor: As Provided
Reference Count: 75
Tragic Accident or Wrongful Death? Assessing the Effectiveness of MIT's Responses in a High-Profile Student Suicide Crisis
Hudson, Tara D.
Online Submission, Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Association for the Study of Higher Education (Charlotte, NC, Nov 19, 2011)
Given the prevalence of mental health issues and suicidal ideation among U.S. college students, higher education institutions are likely to face a student suicide crisis at some point. The messages college administrators send in the aftermath of a student suicide crisis have the potential to placate or exacerbate the outrage that stakeholders feel; thus, these messages have the potential to minimize or aggravate the reputational and financial damage that institutions face in the wake of a student suicide. The purpose of this research was to explore the effectiveness of specific crisis communication strategies in reducing the impact of a high-profile social legitimacy crisis resulting from a student suicide, using the case of the six-year crisis at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) sparked by sophomore Elizabeth Shin's death in 2000. Data were drawn from MIT press releases and internal publications, news media accounts of the crisis, and legal documents in Shin v. MIT. Two theoretical frameworks drawn from the crisis communication literature, Situational Crisis Communication Theory (SCCT) and Benoit and Brinson's (1994) typology of image restoration strategies, were applied to assess the effectiveness of MIT's response during the crisis. The results of this research show that MIT administrators chose minimally effective response strategies, chiefly excusing and scapegoating, which prolonged the crisis and likely increased the reputational and financial damage that resulted. By choosing more appropriate response strategies such as sympathy and apology, MIT may have been able to reduce the impact of the crisis. In the interest of risk management, college and university administrators can use the findings of this case study to inform their own planning for a student suicide crisis. (Contains 1 figure.)
Publication Type: Reports - Research; Speeches/Meeting Papers
Education Level: Higher Education; Postsecondary Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: Massachusetts