My Cousin

Teaching sympathy to USC. My cousin died two years ago in November.

By Graham Culbertson

Published: Monday, April 12, 2004

You might have known her. She was a student at USC, as fun a girl as any who've ever been at USC. She fought to complete high school through illness, and fought to come to USC, and kept on fighting until Lyme disease finally took her life. I'm not qualified to tell her story; I'm not willing to even try to tell her story. This is a different story.

When I lost my cousin, I was in the middle of that last hectic week of papers and projects. I had one due the Friday of her funeral, and I showed up at my professor's office that day on the way to the funeral, to tell him I would be missing class and that I had neither the time nor the will to write a paper. My professor told me that my absence would be excused, but since a cousin is not a parent, my paper would be counted late. When I protested, he told me that he would count it only one day late if I gave it to him by the next Monday, which I later discovered was his standard policy. I think his actions speak for themselves. Another professor, one Lawrence F. Rhu, responded to my e-mail with words of kindness and sympathy, telling me not to worry about my paper. When I went in to see him, unannounced, Dr. Rhu and the undergraduate director of English were scrambling to get something done and he didn\'t have time to talk to me, or at least he shouldn\'t have. But he walked out into the hall with me, put his hands on my shoulders, and told me that I had nothing to worry about with the paper and that I could call him any time I needed someone to talk to. I had been crying a lot and I almost burst into tears but I managed not to. I thanked him and I almost hugged him and I\'m going to invite him to my wedding once I figure out the appropriate way to tell him I\'m engaged. So now, in this column, I\'m asking a question to Student Government, Andrew Sorensen, various provosts, the Board of Trustees and anyone else who\'s reading this and has any authority at this university. Why was my first professor\'s response acceptable, and can anything be done to make it unacceptable? At the time I was upset and called the head of the department and he told me that there was nothing he could do, except speak to my professor privately. I don\'t think that\'s good enough. I think everyone who suffers a death in the family (Or a friend. It\'s not my job or anyone else\'s to distinguish between a cousin and a parent) should be guaranteed by the university, that their professors must behave like a Larry Rhu. I don\'t know what act of God it would take, or if anyone could or would take the initiative, but I shudder to think of anyone else having their grief categorized by an apparently unfeeling professor. If nothing else, I hope that professors who read this will at least stop and think before dealing with a student who has suffered a loss. '; You might have known her. She was a student at USC, as fun a girl as any who've ever been at USC. She fought to complete high school through illness, and fought to come to USC, and kept on fighting until Lyme disease finally took her life. I'm not qualified to tell her story; I'm not willing to even try to tell her story. This is a different story. When I lost my cousin, I was in the middle of that last hectic week of papers and projects. I had one due the Friday of her funeral, and I showed up at my professor's office that day on the way to the funeral, to tell him I would be missing class and that I had neither the time nor the will to write a paper. My professor told me that my absence would be excused, but since a cousin is not a parent, my paper would be counted late. When I protested, he told me that he would count it only one day late if I gave it to him by the next Monday, which I later discovered was his standard policy. I think his actions speak for themselves. Another professor, one Lawrence F. Rhu, responded to my e-mail with words of kindness and sympathy, telling me not to worry about my paper. When I went in to see him, unannounced, Dr. Rhu and the undergraduate director of English were scrambling to get something done and he didn't have time to talk to me, or at least he shouldn't have. But he walked out into the hall with me, put his hands on my shoulders, and told me that I had nothing to worry about with the paper and that I could call him any time I needed someone to talk to. I had been crying a lot and I almost burst into tears but I managed not to. I thanked him and I almost hugged him and I'm going to invite him to my wedding once I figure out the appropriate way to tell him I'm engaged. So now, in this column, I'm asking a question to Student Government, Andrew Sorensen, various provosts, the Board of Trustees and anyone else who's reading this and has any authority at this university. Why was my first professor's response acceptable, and can anything be done to make it unacceptable? At the time I was upset and called the head of the department and he told me that there was nothing he could do, except speak to my professor privately. I don't think that's good enough. I think everyone who suffers a death in the family (Or a friend. It's not my job or anyone else's to distinguish between a cousin and a parent) should be guaranteed by the university, that their professors must behave like a Larry Rhu. I don't know what act of God it would take, or if anyone could or would take the initiative, but I shudder to think of anyone else having their grief categorized by an apparently unfeeling professor. If nothing else, I hope that professors who read this will at least stop and think before dealing with a student who has suffered a loss.