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Will CAU Wellness Week begin a new standard for bereavement?

(Photo courtesy of Clark Atlanta University.)

As students were grieving the loss of their classmate, teammate and friend, they wished the administration would do more. 

By Allison Joyner

Last week, Clark Atlanta University (CAU) President George French declared a wellness week in reaction to last month’s shooting death of Jatonne Sterling. 

“As we continue to mourn the tragic loss of our beloved CAU family member, we felt it appropriate to refocus on commemorating his life through initiating a reflective mental health week,” French said in a statement.  

On Feb. 28, Sterling, 20, was found dead near the AUC Catholic Center after 1:30 p.m. He was a Chicago native and a member of the baseball team. A few days later, the Atlanta Police Department arrested Keontay Holliman-Peoples for his death.




Students and other CAU community members received an email eight hours later describing the incident. Classes resumed the following day, but most through a bereavement day would have been appropriate.

“I do not understand why people were able to walk around and have everything go on like it was a normal day,” said Lavonia Bobo, a master’s student at CAU. “That was confusing to me. Why didn’t we have a shelter-in-place or a lockdown and why did the information come out so late at night?”

On the day of Peoples’ arrest, the school’s Student Government Association hosted a candlelight vigil for all Atlanta University Center students to attend. Still, there was no official day of mourning. 

Before the Historically Black institution distributed the email, another email was transmitted to notify that the campus was on shelter-in-place due to shots fired a few blocks from where Sterling died. 

“A student was murdered on campus and then there was another shooting and now you want me to go into midterms week when I don’t feel safe? That’s a lot,” Bobo said. 

Clark Atlanta University. Credit: wsbtv.com.

The email detailing how they plan to execute wellness week agreed with Bobo’s concerns. 

“It will be beneficial to pause our busy schedules to begin to heal as a community and remember why Clark Atlanta University is here,” the statement said. “The administration has initiated developing a more extensive mental health program for the continuous and long-term benefits of the entire CAU community.”

The statement added that all classes and midterm exams scheduled for that week were postponed until returning to campus after Spring Break on Mar. 20. 

French added that the physical and mental well-being of the scholars was his top priority and wanted to give them this time to heal. 

“What tends to happen is that mental health has taken great strides but it is still something that has stigma or shame associated with it,” said Hannah Williams, a licensed professional counselor. “Many people struggle with mental health, leading to many remaining silent and not seeking the help they need.”

With this subject not being encouraged to discuss in the African American community, high school counselor Matea Tarver thinks that CAU used a thoughtful approach that will make a difference in the long run. 

“The way I process grief may be completely different than how you process it for some students,” Tarver said. “Some students may be “I’m good, I’m ready, I got to get moving” and can’t think about things and then some students may take a while for them to get through that so that’s where having those mental health services, are going to play a key part because for those students it’s going to take them a little bit longer and may need additional time.”

CAU students participate in puppy therapy as one of the activities scheduled for wellness week. (Image provided by Shiekgo Carter.)

The wellness week began with a special chapel service that Monday and additional resources like access to grief counselors, movie nights, plate-breaking sessions and puppy therapy were offered to students and professors.  

“There are students who live on campus who need this week,” Bobo said. “How do you expect to lose a friend, hear gunshots and now also have to study for exams?”

Halfway into her final semester, Bobo told SaportaReport that she is feeling burned out but is sad that she gets to take this break from exams because of a senseless crime. 

“Our mental health matters,” Bobo said. “It’s weird to have this break during midterms week but that does not mean crime will stop in this community. So how do we move forward?”


With most schools and corporations following a strict three-business-day bereavement policy, how will CAU’s approach of offering five days off be a new standard?

Bobo also agrees and thinks that more time for mental health should be considered in the future and suggests that the school should involve the community too. 

“I think that it’s better to be unified with one another and understand each other on both ends because that’s how you can change the situations that are going on right now,” Bobo said.

Tarver also hopes corporations, schools and other government institutions emphasize the mental health of the people who work and learn there because it plays a crucial part in job performance.

“If you had an illness, a cough or something going on with your heart, the same way you would go to a doctor, we also need to consider our mental health because that’s still part of our body and it affects many aspects of our life,” Tarver said.

She also added that meeting with a counselor or therapist is more affordable than expected. In addition, most companies now offer an employee assistance program that assists employees in resolving problems that may affect their performance, like substance abuse, child or elder care, financial or legal problems or treatment for traumatic events like workplace violence.

“People aren’t going to look at you and think, ‘what’s wrong with them? Why are they going to therapy,’” Tarver said. “I think many people are embracing it a lot more these days so don’t be afraid to seek help and talk to a professional. If you don’t know where to start, reach out to somebody and hopefully, they can guide you in the right direction.”





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