University names dead Vanbrugh student

Drunken woman

The University has named the Vanbrugh College student found dead on Monday morning as Laura Gerstel, 20, a third-year Biochemistry student.

In a statement the University said: “We are greatly saddened by the tragic death of Laura Gerstel. She had completed two years of a course in Biochemistry at York. Our thoughts are with her family at this extremely distressing time. The University is offering support to her friends here.”

Police confirmed that a unit was called to a student house on Fulford Road at 4.20am. An inquest into Gerstel’s death will be opened tomorrow. Police do not suspect foul play.

By Monday night friends had already begun leaving tributes on her Facebook wall. Her Facebook status, last updated at 2.46am on Monday morning, reads: “Laura is thinking ‘if only…'”

Dr Jim Hoggett, Gerstel’s supervisor, said: “Laura was an enthusiastic and bright student who was a pleasure to teach. She was very popular with staff and her fellow students and she will be much missed in the Departments of Biology and Chemistry where she studied.”

Gerstel was originally from North Berwick, a seaside town east of Edinburgh. Her parents have been informed.

A statement from Vanbrugh JCRC is expected in the next few hours.

Vanbrugh College Provost Dr. Allen Warren emailed all Vanbrugh third-years on Monday to inform them of the news. In the email he said: “As many of you will already know, a third-year Vanbrugh student died early this morning. If you were a friend of the student concerned and would like to talk to either Ryan Bennett, Vanbrugh JCR Chair, or myself, do get in touch.”


  1. 29 Nov ’07 at 1:38 am

    Anthony Arundel

    I don’t want to seem cold or unsympathetic, but I don’t see this tragedy as being the business of the public. Her friends and family will know of her death regardless of Nouse’s report, and it is surely not in their (or Laura Gerstel’s) interest for it to be turned into what is essentially campus gossip. Nor do I think it is fair to implicitly justify this article by linking her (somewhat insultingly, in my view) to a college of which she is a member through no choice of her own.

    I would, however, like to say that 99% of the time I have nothing but massive admiration for Nouse’s journalism.

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  2. Hi Anthony,

    Thanks for your comment.

    As you said, those close to Laura Gerstel will not need Nouse to report the tragedy to them. However, I would argue that York is a small campus and gossip and rumour travels quickly, especially with something as dramatic as this. I therefore think that Nouse’s reporting actually has an important role to play in terms of providing well-researched factual information to dispel rumours rather than perpetuate them.

    This article is not ‘justified’ by the fact that Laura Gerstel was a Vanbrugh student but rather that she was a student at the University of York. The repeated references to her membership of Vanbrugh college simply reflect the fact that both college officials and the JCRC felt it was important to make statements. Laura Gerstel is also identified in the article as a Biochemist. Even without the statements from Vanbrugh College, York is still a collegiate university and a student’s college affiliation is a common form of identification and one that is used in almost all student reporting, regardless of the content of the article.

    Raf Sanchez

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  3. 30 Nov ’07 at 3:45 pm

    Anthony Arundel

    Yes, that actually seems fair. On reflection, I suppose it’s not wise to simply ignore the fact that a student has died.

    The main thing that made me take umbrage with this article, and inspired me to write the comment, was the continuation of the article beyond the simple facts and into such things as her final facebook status. What is a reader meant to infer from that? For one thing, I can’t see why the entire readership of Nouse should be let it on her personal life, and, were I a relative or friend, I don’t think I would appreciate this (though I don’t want to speak for Laura Gerstel’s friends and family.) Moreover, not only was it written when she was in a desperate state of mind, most people would attribute very little importance to anything written on facebook. If Nouse’s intention is to dispel rumours, then leading readers (most of them strangers to Laura Gerstel) to ponder on her facebook status (of all things!) is surely counterproductive.

    However, I should apologise for suggesting that the article was justified by linking her to Vanbrugh.


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  4. Hi Anthony,

    Sorry for the delayed response, I was out of York over the weekend.

    The decision to print Laura’s facebook status was not one that was taken lightly. It was the subject of serious discussion among the editorial team before the article was printed. In the end it was felt that the status had been put up as a public statement and that while Laura may have been ‘in a desperate state of mind’ when it was written it was still intended to be widely known. I continue to believe that we printed nothing but facts – there is no speculation in the article. We leave that to the reader based on the facts presented.

    While it does not justify our own decision making, I would point that a number of local and national news organisation, including the Yorkshire Post and the Daily Telegraph, also printed her facebook status.

    I appreciate your thoughtful comments on this story and I think it’s healthy for the editorial team to be forced to publicly defend its decision making.


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  5. I graduated from York last year but still have friends at the university (some studying biochemistry) and come back to the area frequently myself. I would just like to comment on the use of Facebook in journalism.

    In this instance I think it is clear that the Facebook quotation is intended to imply that Laura was unhappy at the time of her death and invoke an air of desperation. Further more, I propose that the addition of this information only panders to gossip and speculation over the cause of her death. As Anthony mentioned, this is a private affair and thus an orbiturary and tribute is all that was called for by Nouse. As York is such a close community we do not need such speculative journalism.

    Indeed, Laura’s Facebook was not of the public domain. If you know anything about Facebook you know that you can only access a person’s profile if you are in their network. Thus, she had declared her status to members of York University only, yet you have now made this information global and no doubt other news websites will steal this quotation to use on their publications.

    The same was true of the tragic story of Rob Jones earlier in 2007. A touching tribute was created on a Facebook group and online news sites quoted this to add emotion to their reports. By all means direct people to where they can lay tribute but do not advertise people’s misery to improve articles.

    Facebook is a social networking tool not a source of journalism. Please keep it this way.

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  6. correction: Rob Davies was the student who tragically died in 2007.

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