Written by: Amneet Mann, News Editor
A student writing a midterm exam on Burnaby campus went into medical distress and passed away on the evening of Wednesday, October 17.
The student, who was in his late 50s, was writing an archaeology exam when he experienced the medical emergency.
“My understanding of the particular incident was that first there was the instructor noticing that there was some respiratory difficulty, and I think there was some intervening time before it was determined that off-campus services were needed,” said Tim Rahilly, vice-provost and associate vice-president, students and international to Global News.
Cathi-Lee Williams, a student who was sitting near the man who went into medical distress, told Global News that “the snoring got quite violent and he started shaking a bit.”
Campus Public Safety was called at 7:24 p.m. and at 7:26 p.m. Upon arrival, Campus Public Safety personnel began performing first aid on the student and called 911.
The other students were evacuated from the classroom and asked to finish writing their exam.
Rahilly confirmed in an interview with The Peak that, despite the first aid provided, the student passed away.
Rahilly has since sent out an email to SFU students on behalf of the university, outlining the steps students are asked to take in an emergency situation. In the email, students are advised to first contact Campus Public Safety and then call 911.
Students who interviewed with Global News or posted on the r/simonfraser subreddit expressed concern regarding SFU’s emergency protocol, which encourages students to contact Campus Security before external emergency services.
“It’s our recommendation that people call 4-5-0-0 at the Burnaby campus, because we are on top of a mountain and we believe we can get to most cases faster than off-campus services at the same time as alerting them to come on up, said Rahilly to The Peak.
However, Rahilly noted that the most important thing for students to take away, whether or not they are familiar with SFU’s emergency protocols, is that “when you need help, call for help. In the background, we’ll do our very best to try and employ the resources that we can, both at SFU and with external emergency services.”
In the case that a student witnesses a medical emergency, Rahilly mentioned that there are artificial external defibrillator (AED) devices that are stocked across campus with instructions on how to use them, as well as campus patrollers who are trained as first responders that would be able to help in the situation.
Rahilly noted that SFU did not have a policy which would address a medical emergency such as this occurring during an exam. “This is to my knowledge the first time that this has happened in an exam at SFU,” he said.
He noted that while students were evacuated from the classroom and asked to continue writing the exam in another room, academic accommodations would be made for students who were unable to continue the exam or who felt their performance had been impacted.
“I think that, in hindsight, if we had known everything we now know then, we perhaps would’ve acted a little bit differently,” said Rahilly. “My own personal take on this is that, in terms of providing medical services to the student, it’s probably better to have people doing something as opposed to having 60 people standing around, waiting, and trying to figure out what’s happening in the situation. So I think in terms of having the students depart the area, I think that’s actually a really good thing.”
“But I completely understand the response people are having,” Rahilly stated.
According to Rahilly, SFU has also contacted the students who witnessed the event directly to offer counselling support.
Following this incident, SFU is now moving towards an internal debrief of the situation in terms of the university’s practices and responses. Rahilly explained that this is the university’s response whenever a major incident occurs on campus.
In addition, SFU is putting together a larger review regarding campus safety and security which will involve the incident of campus violence which occured on October 3 on Burnaby campus, and may include practices during other incidents such as this one. This larger review will involve consultation with the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS), as well as students who were involved in both of these incidents.
“Our hearts go out to the family and loved ones of the student who passed away,” said Rahilly. Rahilly had arrived at the scene on the evening of the incident: “[I] had a chance to speak to the faculty, and the TA security, and the police, and on and on, and I just think everyone did their very best in responding,” he added.