Monday, May 11, 2015

Difficult disclosures in a crisis communication

Colleges have the difficult problem of when to disclose the name of a student who's run afoul of the law. Or worse.

This weekend, the "worse" happened. A student drowned in the Erie Canal in Brockport, NY. The College at Brockport, a SUNY campus, did the right thing by communicating news of the drowning.

College at Brockport's Facebook feed, May 10, 2015
But the initial announcement didn't disclose the student's name, which sent thousands of anxious parents across New York state into panic.

Is it their son or daughter? 

As it happens, the student's family asked that the victim's name not be released. Which is terribly unfair to thousands of families wondering if their child is that victim.

SUNY Brockport needs to respect the family's wishes, but at the same time, reassure parents of thousands of students that their child is not the victim. A few parents' unhappy reactions are captured in the screen shot of the college's Facebook feed.

SUNY Brockport did the right thing in respecting the family's request. But, would it hurt, I wonder, to describe the victim's gender and hometown, and thus relieve at least some worry for thousands of other SUNY Brockport parents and friends? Something along the lines of:

"Authorities believe the victim is a male from Herkimer, NY. We are respecting the family's request for privacy and not disclosing the victim's name."

Words to this effect could ease the concerns of thousands of moms and dads across the state.