A lack of sensitivity

Here’s an unthinkable hypothetical: Imagine someone you love, be it your best friend, sibling or — when we’re grown up with families — child disappearing without any warning. It’s something no one wants or deserves to go through.Now imagine the school that this person attends failing to look in earnest for your loved one for five days. It would be an obvious lack of tact and sensitivity that would only add insult to what is already considerable injury, and yet 40 minutes down Route 7 this very same scenario is unfolding – and it’s as unbelievable as it is heartbreaking.While many of you may already know the story — 19-year-old Middlebury College student Nicholas Garza went missing on Feb. 5 and has not been seen since — what made our chins drop to the floor was Middlebury’s response to Garza’s disappearance.Granted, the situation was far from simple with Garza going missing the night before he was to embark on a three-night camping trip with friends, the fact remains that Garza had not been seen for five days before a missing persons report was filed by his mother on Feb. 10.This was the first and easily the biggest problem.No matter the situation, there need to be protocols in place at institutions, especially colleges and universities, in dealing with missing persons, and these protocols need to be more proactive.Regardless of the rules and regulations for considering a person missing, we must, as a community looking out for each other, take any state or federal rules a step further when it comes to one of our own.Even if the person does not fall into a “high-risk” category (mental or physical handicaps, age, suspected foul play) they need to be located. If they are missing and their absence is wholly out of character, a laissez-faire mentality is inexcusable.We fully understand that cases can become complicated, but in hindsight complications become excuses. Excuses don’t bring people back, or make the situation any better.This brings us to our second problem with the Middlebury case.Middlebury’s Dean of Students Tim Spears, in discussing the role of gender in the college’s delayed reporting, told Channel 3 News more than a week after Garza’s disappearance, “I think if it was the case of a woman going missing, I think the exchange may have been different.”This did it for us. We can understand the complications, but this is utterly and unnecessarily insensitive, admitting that they didn’t do everything they might have done if the student was someone else.Colleges everywhere, ours included, need to learn from this terrible situation, one for which we still hold out hope of a happy ending.It’s as simple and complicated as this: if someone is missing, that someone must be found as soon as possible. Accepting any complications as a matter of course is essentially taking steps toward having to accept that someone’s loved one might never be found.