Does a Student Whose Roommate Commits Suicide Receive a 4.0 GPA?

There are a variety of rumors surrounding higher education bereavement policies that affect students' grades.

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Claim

A standard college regulation specifies that a student whose roommate commits suicide automatically receives a 4.0 grade point average for the current school term.

Rating

Origin

Variations:

  • The type of death required to qualify a student for a 4.0 average varies. At different schools, it is said that a roommate’s murder, accidental death, violent death, slow drawn-out death (such as cancer), or death from any cause is covered by the regulation. Murdering one’s own roommate does not qualify, however.
  • Not all versions specify that a roommate must die. Some variations of the legend maintain that the death of a parent or other close relative, or any person who is important in the student’s life, also qualifies.
  • Some versions also add extra provisions, such as “death must occur in the room or with the roommate” or “death must occur during the last six weeks of term.” A student who does not witness his roommate’s death receives only a 3.4 average; survivors each receive a 3.5 average if the deceased had more than one roommate.
  • The “reward” received by the surviving roommate is not always a 4.0 average. Some versions award only a 3.0 average, or an alternate “prize” such as first choice in the next dormitory “room draw.” Alternatively, some versions specify that a dead roommate entitles one to free tuition that year.

Origins:   Although many schools will offer some sort of bereavement consideration under exceptional circumstances, no college or university in the United States has a policy awarding a 4.0 average (or anything else) to a student whose roommate dies. This rumor (or at least its widespread distribution) appears to be of fairly recent origin, dating from approximately the mid-1970s. It most likely started out as an expression of the pressures students feel to achieve good grades in the form of a morbid joke (i.e., “Even if the pressures of school cause some people to off themselves, there’s no reason we can’t profit by it!”), and the joke became a legend when it was spread as true by credulous students, picking up variations along the way. A similar theme of suicide (and student grade consideration for witnessing it) can be found in the pencil suicide legend.

Sightings:

  • This legend formed the basis of two 1998 films, Dead Man on Campus and Dead Man’s Curve.
  • In an episode of “The Simpsons” (broadcast 19 November 2000), after Lisa is believed to have died, Principal Skinner tells Bart he will be receiving straight A’s.
  • On NBC’s “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” (episode title “Art”; original air date 7 October 2001), when detectives find that a suspect received credit for passing all her college classes even though she was assigned no grades, the school registrar informs them that per “school policy” the student had been given a pass that semester because her roommate committed suicide.
  • On “CSI: NY” (episode title “Some Buried Bones”; original air date 7 February 2007), a student under pressure to do well at school murders his roommate and tries to frame somebody else for the deed in an attempt to garner an automatic 4.0.

Additional information:

    Hollywood Discovers an Apocryphal Legend Hollywood Discovers an Apocryphal Legend (The Chronicle of Higher Education)

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Sources

Bennett, Gillian and Paul Smith.   A Nest of Vipers.
    Sheffield: Univ. of Sheffield Press, 1990.   ISBN 1-85075-256-7   (pp. 69-76).

Bronner, Simon J.   Piled Higher and Deeper.
    Little Rock: August House, 1990.   ISBN 0-87483-154-7   (pp. 32-33).

Brunvand, Jan Harold.   Curses! Broiled Again!
    New York: W. W. Norton, 1989.   ISBN 0-393-30711-5   (pp. 295-298).

Dickson, Paul and Joseph Gouldon.   Myth-Informed.
    New York: Perigee Books, 1993.   ISBN 0-399-51839-8.   (p. 62).

Reisberg, Leo.   “Hollywood Discovers an Apocryphal Legend.”
    The Chronicle of Higher Education.   11 September 1998.