Murphy, Sara, E.

Advisor Department

Honors Program




complicated grief; disenfranchised grief; college student; emerging adult

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Creative Commons License
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In order to demonstrate the importance of understanding and recognizing grief, this research project explores the capacity for young adults within the college setting to experience two negative grief processes: disenfranchised and complicated grieving. In broad terms, disenfranchised grief occurs when society does not recognize the grief a bereaved person is experiencing; complicated grief occurs when the bereaved continues to grieve for a prolonged period of time in which they are unable to adapt to their life. While it can be difficult to define a specific population who is at risk for experiencing these types of grief, society often fails to recall that death and subsequent grief can be experienced at any time during life, resulting in a lack of realization that college-age students are no less susceptible to experiencing g loss and grief. I argue that this population is underrepresented in relation to recognizing and experiencing a grieving process, perhaps leading them towards a disenfranchised and complicated grieving pathway more often than society realizes.

With a particular focus on research from Dr. Kenneth Doka, among other thanatologists, my research examines both disenfranchised and complicated grieving processes in relation to experiencing them while in a college setting; focusing on topics such as how the college culture, relationships with the deceased, and mode of death and stigma impact the grieving process along with gender, social media, and meaning-making influences on grief. In hopes of combatting this lack of representation and to educate others on disenfranchised and complicated grief, I created a presentation entitled, “Death Education for Resident Advisors: Helpful vs. Harmful Responses” and presented it to The University of Rhode Island House and Residential Life’s Resident Advisors during their winter training, in conjunctions with my research paper. This experience, along with my research, enabled me to expand my personal knowledge while representing this unrecognized population.

Death is a difficult subject matter for many, and bringing the topic of grief, especially grief that is, by definition, more challenging to move through, to the foreground of academia is necessary to further education and decrease instances of negative grief. Like the inevitability of death, there is the inevitability of grief. Despite this definitive process of death and subsequent grief of the survivor, the mode in which death occurs and the type of grief experienced are not definitive or predictable in nature. This contributes to an individualized grieving process, a course that society deeply struggles to openly value and discuss. This research explores these grieving processes to allow for an important and greater conversation about grief to begin.