Straight from the source

3

After a week long investigation, Imprint has decided to make our raw materials available for readers.

*Trigger warning: contains material about mental illness, suicide, and loss of loved ones to suicide.

We will be updating this through the week. If you have any questions please reach out to us.


Chase Graham with his mom, Andrea Graham. Courtesy Graham Family.
Chase Graham with his mom, Andrea Graham. Courtesy Graham Family.

Q&A with Andrea Graham

Q: What has the university done so far in contacting you or your family and what sort of supports have they provided?

A: The university itself has really done very little to nothing. I actually did not hear from the university at all. I was never contacted by the university. On Thursday (March 23) I received a text message from a man named Chris Read. I don’t know what his position is but the only reason he contacted me was because my father, Chase’s grandfather, had reached to him to speak about counselling for himself. So the only reason Chris contacted me is because my dad asked him to. Other than that I’ve heard from nobody. I did write a letter to the president’s office and explained the fact that I had never been contacted by the University of Waterloo and they explained to me again that their priority is contacting the family and following their wishes. So number one, there was no informing. Number two there was no inquiry as to what my wishes are. If my wishes had been followed I would have been certain that there was immediate counselling available in Chase’s building. I want door to door check-ins with the kids. I would want the entire faculty and students to know that my son committed suicide on campus. We’re very open about this. And for them to send a statement out, to me it almost felt like they were excusing their lack of communication with us out of respect for our privacy, when in fact we are not interested in that. I’m interested in making sure students get the help they need and that this is not swept under the rug, because I feel this is an issue that needs to be addressed. We are very disappointed by the university, that the letter from the president said that they were sorry that their level of communication with me did not meet my expectations. Which I found ridiculous. If I had been perhaps, contacted, that would have been nice but I was never contacted except by Chris Read. There’s been no follow up. I’ve had to chase after everything. At a time when I’m grieving, I feel the level of support is basically zero. My concern right now is, it’s too late for my son Chase.

Q: I was just wondering if the university could have maybe contacted anyone else in your family or if Chase maybe had someone else listed as next of kin because that’s what they’ve been telling us.

A: Chase’s father and I are divorced so I’m not quite sure why it’s okay to only be in contact with the father but not asking, “is there anyone else in the family we need to be in contact with?” None of that was asked. I am Chase’s mother. I live in California but that is of zero consequence to me. It shouldn’t matter where I live. Both parents should be contacted. I am as much a support system as his father is. I paid Chase’s tuition. I’m not expecting the university to take accountability, but at least an e-mail of condolence would be appropriate.

Q: Did they (University of Waterloo) offer any kinds of support or anything to Chase’s father?

A: I can’t speak to that. I just know that he did notify the university the day and time he’d be arriving to pack up Chase’s room and he had to wait outside for someone to show up. So he was standing outside the dorm, which I think was uncomfortable for him. You know it’s a stark contrast. I have an older son at Queen’s University and the moment they found out they spun into action. A couple of months ago when the other suicide occurred in Chase’s building, I know they were evacuated. Chase told me. He called me because he was in another building. And I asked you know, what services were made available when those kids went back. “I get this line that, “Well, services are made available.” Does that mean there are people to call? Are there people on site? It’s not enough. I think it’s an agreed sentiment at the university that not enough is being done.

Q: Has the university reached out to Chase’s brother because I know he posted on Reddit and that post has had a lot of attention, so I’m just wondering if anything is being done about that?

A: I think someone, sort of like you, reached out to him. He mentioned he had requests for interviews, but he had declined.  But as far as the university reaching out to him, no. He read the president’s message too, and he was pretty disgusted as well. The statement about following the family’s wishes – our wishes are not even being considered.

Q: Is there anything right now, you’d like to say to students who might be in a similar space as Chase?

A: Yes. I want them to know that regardless what pressure they’ve put on themselves, regardless of the pressures from home, it’s as my other son said, it’s just school. It’s just a grade. It does not determine your future success. It might take you on a different path, but that’s okay. But they can’t do that if they’re not here.

Q: Would you mind telling me a little bit about Chase?

A: My first thought is that if it can happen to a child like Chase, it can happen to anyone because he was very well liked. He was a math whiz; he got tops grades. He was very generous with helping others. I’m hearing a lot from his friends that he helped people with math, he had a big heart, he was very quiet but very thoughtful. He loved to bake.

Q: What did he like to bake?

A: He liked to bake cookies and for friends’ birthdays we would always bake them cookies. He always wore blue because Chase didn’t like to draw attention to himself so he always wore jeans and a blue t-shirt and a blue hoodie and as a result everyone noticed him for always wearing blue.

Q: Do you know how often Chase got to go home while he was here (at UW)?

A: The family lives in Kingston so any opportunity. I’d say since he’s been there he went every couple of months. There were periods of time when he felt grounded there, with his brothers and dad and there was really no indication at all. He has no history of mental illness. I think the environment for him was very isolating. I think the thought of five years was stressful. I think the constant having to move and the stress of going through co-op interviews and then the prospect of moving really weighed heavily on him. I think it’s an awful lot for a kid. I think there’s a lot of other kids that must be struggling.

Q: How often did you get to see Chase?

A: I would see him during the spring and summer months, every month. It’s been winter and I live in California and he’d been in school so I hadn’t seen him in 4 or 5 months. But we spoke everyday, texted everyday.

Q: What did Chase want to be when he finished university?

A: I don’t think he knew. He felt the path would be laid out for him over the next few years through his classes. He was definitely into computers and he loved to write his own programs.

Q: How was the memorial service that took place over the weekend?

A: At Chase’s old high school we had a gathering. He had a lot of friends that came that were away at university. They came home because this has been very hard on them. We had a gathering of about 150 of Chase’s friends and teachers and they all wore blue and shared stories. All the teachers said that he was their favourite student of all time. He had a spark in his eye and a wicked sense of humour. That was another thing about Chase – he had a really intelligent, quick sense of humour. He didn’t say much but when he did it was usually funny. He was kind of introspective.

Q: How is the family holding up at this point?

A: What we’re trying to do is get back to a life without Chase. There will always be a huge void and we’re just doing the best we can. If we’d known now – if I’d known then what I know now about the climate at Waterloo, he would not have gone to Waterloo. We were trying to empower him to make his own choices, because that’s the program he wanted, but I sincerely regret not doing my own research. There will always be regrets.

Q: What do you see as the university’s role in all of this right now?

A: I think they need to seriously review their mental health services. They need to understand that kids with mental health issues don’t always reach out. They need to do a better job recognizing that a lot of these kids, especially gifted kids, might need somebody to come directly to them. I think they have a responsibility to look at the intensity of these programs, especially for first year students who may be from far away and how stressful that is.

Q: Do you think school life caused him an undue amount of stress?

A: Actually, I have no explanation for what he did. I feel it had to do with his school stress. There’s no other explanation. And the expectations he put on himself, because we as a family were very proud of his accomplishments and we made sure he knew he was loved regardless. I just think the intensity and competitiveness at University of Waterloo was a factor.

Q: And you mentioned the school climate. Do you mind expanding on that?

A: My perception is that for a lot of children like Chase, and I know that’s not the case for every student, but it’s isolating, I think it’s competitive and isolating. I just don’t think enough is done. There’s an initial “let’s get together; we’ll do social things” – I just don’t think there’s enough.


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Chase Graham, with his dad Mark Graham. Courtesy Graham Family.

Q&A with Mark Graham

Q: What has the university done so far in terms of reaching out to you and offering any kinds of support?

A: Support? Nothing. We hadn’t heard from them until I was up there to pick up Chase’s stuff on Friday (March 24). They offered their condolences and stuff. I was appalled by the fact that there was no notice of anything, not even flowers where he fell. Or notices on the elevators or doors. Nothing.

Q: Imprint was informed that counselling services sent their director to meet with you while you were there on Friday?

A: Yeah I met with Tom Ruttan (Director of Counselling Services).

Q: Who was the first person to contact you and then what happened?

A: The university? Or the police that showed up at my work to tell me my son had committed suicide?

Q: From Waterloo.

A: I’d have to go back through my e-mail chain. There was Pam (Charbonneau), but I think she was from the Student Success Office. (Mark later confirmed to Imprint that Charbonneau is Director of the Student Success Office.)

Q: Is anything you’d like to tell students who are reading this and may be going through similar things that Chase was?

A: You know, no matter what it is, if they’re feeling lonely and they think their parents won’t understand, they do understand. They will understand. They want them home. They don’t want to lose them. It’s okay to come home. It doesn’t matter. The network, the support groups, the 1-800 lines, are great but your friends and the people you talk to everyday need to be able to see the triggers and know the signs if someone is asking for help. They’ll tell their friends before they tell their parents. And the kids need to be able to say, “You know, I think something is wrong. We should get somebody involved.” That whole network is where they have to rely on it. They say history repeats itself and that building now, there was a girl that committed suicide a couple months ago under the same idea. Never heard, as a parent, that there were those problems in that building. I heard it from my son and sort of fluffed it off, because I too thought my son was stable. In the lobby of that building they have locks on the vending machines with locks you can even shoot off to protect food and their money. They don’t protect my child. When I raised my son. I protected him. I protect all my boys. And when I leave them in the care of a university I expect the same treatment, the same due diligence.

This was not a troubled youth. He never smoked or drank. He loved life, and we loved him. This is a waste. Truly a waste that could have been prevented. Yeah everyone goes through these tough times in first year, but if you get through that storm you can be better. Chase just didn’t make it through the storm. And it’s a tragedy that it’s taken this to happen.

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  • Laura

    Andrea, Mark and Family, our deepest sympathies go out to you, for the loss of your son. He did matter.

    Why has no one commented on this article or the article “Stop history from repeating itself”? Both were posted on Mar 28th, today is Mar 31st!

    We, as parents, have to speak up! We raise our children for 17/18 years and send them off to school, with the hopes of our children learning and maturing into well adjusted adults. The hope is that the university is continuing the job we started. I expected more from UW. My child also chose this school and program over others we would have preferred. At the UW open house session, we meet a support person from the Student Success Office and she reassured us that supports are accessible for our children. They may be, but most kids will not reach out. It is up to the school to follow through, be visible on a more regular basis. My daughter lives in Beck Hall. She says the residence has no sense of community. She knows very few people in her building and it’s the end of March. Sure the Don’s had there mandatory talk at the beginning of semester one with all the kids, but what else is done. The Faculty needs to step up. We weren’t notified about either suicide in that building. My daughter wasn’t offered any support surrounding these tragedies. The police came to my daughter’s door to evacuate her from the building with the passing of the other student, but was given no explanation…just asked to leave and wasn’t able to return for six hours. What if there was a health concern? Shouldn’t she/us have been informed? Other schools have implemented programs that are working. UW needs to take a hard look at this issue. We are fortunate the we live close to the university, so if she needs to come home easily, she can. I think this is a lot harder for children that live a far distance away. Maybe the answer would be to reinstate grade 13. It would give kids that extra year to mature and adjust to be away from home.