An energetic young woman whose love of international politics equaled her passion for her sorority, sophomore Jennifer Dierdorff was a motivated worker who displayed determination and maturity. Dierdorff, remembered by friends as strong-willed yet understanding and warm, was found dead in an Arlington, Va., motel room Friday afternoon.
Arlington Police officials said there is no evidence that suggests Dierdorff, 19, of Naperville, Ill., was the victim of foul play.
Dierdorff, a member of the Alpha Phi sorority and The Hatchet’s production manager, was discovered by housekeeping employees of the Americana Motel at about 2 p.m., said Matt Martin, public information officer for the Arlington Police Department.
She was pronounced dead several minutes later.
“Her death comes as a shock to us, and we are mourning the loss of our friend and colleague,” said Hatchet Editor in Chief Mosheh Oinounou. “She was a great listener and a devoted and caring friend.”
Martin said police are treating Dierdorff’s death as “suspicious” and declined to comment directly as to whether the sophomore took her own life.
“There was no obvious evidence that was pointing to another cause of death,” he said.
Officials from the Arlington Medical Examiner’s office, who saw Dierdorff Saturday morning, declined to comment.
Dierdorff joined the Hatchet staff in April 2003 as production manager, a vital position that entails overseeing the layout of the paper and sometimes staying until 5 a.m. on the newspaper’s production nights.
A Hatchet editorial in Monday’s newspaper (p. 4) praised Dierdorff’s dedication, compassion and strength.
“While all of us have our own duties and challenges, it takes a special breed to be production manager. You act as the paper’s focal point … Simply put, it’s the most difficult job on staff, and few men or women are capable of dealing with its rigors. But Jenny was more than capable,” the editorial reads.
Dierdorff exemplified similar qualities as an active member of Alpha Phi and as a staffer in the office of Rep. Jennifer Dunn (R – Wash.). She was also in the Honors Program, served as a Peer Leadership Mentor in the Emerging Leader’s Program and received a full scholarship to GW.
“She was so good at everything she did. She was an incredible leader, a well-spoken girl who was respected by a lot of people,” said Alpha Phi President Dana Rasmussen.
After rushing Alpha Phi during her first semester at GW, Dierdorff instantaneously built strong friendships with her sisters and eventually became the sorority’s director of finance.
“She was the most amazing listener. She kept up with everybody and was genuinely concerned about people,” Rasmussen said, noting that Dierdorff remembered every guy Rasmussen dated and “kept up on every little thing that happened.”
Rasmussen said she fondly remembers making waffles with Dierdorff on Sunday mornings with the cookery Dierdorff’s grandparents bought for the sorority’s kitchen in Townhouse Row. She also noted that Dierdorff was one of her workout partners this summer and loved to work out.
“She was great to be around. She would get excited about the little things that girlfriends like to do, such as talking and movie nights,” Rasmussen said
Many of Dierdorff’s friends spoke about her devotion to the television show “Sex and the City” and noted that she was always fashionably dressed. Dierdorff took a vacation to Ireland at the beginning of the semester, buying a plane ticket for her roommate as a Christmas gift and bringing back a new pair of pants she had bought there.
“Jenny took over the job like a pro. She blew us away with her professionalism and dedication,” said Oinounou of Dierdorff, who became production manager during her first year on staff. “There was not one occasion when she left early. She always made sure she was here until the last page … even if work went until the early morning hours.
“But she always halted production during ”Sex and the City,'” he added.
Training Dierdorff to be production manager was “enjoyable and fun,” said Hatchet Features Editor Liz Bartolomeo, who worked as production manager last year.
“The moment she walked into the office I knew she was perfect for the job. She understood the commitment and drive it took to work in a deadline-centered environment,” Bartolomeo said.
Dierdorff was also one of the lone conservative voices at The Hatchet, a “tough cookie” who boldly expressed her opinions in an office primarily comprised of liberals, Oinounou said.
While putting up a “tough front,” Dierdorff was very kindhearted, Oinounou recalled.
After listening to Oinounou whine for several hours one December afternoon that he needed soup for his cold, Dierdorff brought him a bowl of cheddar broccoli soup from Au Bon Pain the following day.
Le Yu, a high school classmate of Dierdorff’s who attends Cornell University, remembers Dierdorff as “very outgoing, an ambitious girl.”
News of Dierdorff’s death spread quickly through campus Saturday, as many students mourned the death of a selfless young woman who never seemed to leave a moment for herself.
Dierdorff is the third GW student to die in the last two months.
“We have a sense of tragedy whenever any part of the GW community is diminished, and we’re all lesser because one of our fellows has died,” University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg said in an interview Saturday.
“Life hands people these terrible, terrible situations and the test is, I suppose, how we deal with them,” he added.
Dierdorff’s death led most fraternities to cancel their Saturday night bid parties, which were scheduled after last week’s recruitment. The bid deadline was extended until Monday to allow members of the Greek-letter community to cope with the loss of one of its most active members. Most sororities do not hold spring recruitment.
“It certainly has affected everyone in the Greek community,” said Interfraternity Council President Ben Block. “It has been an emotional and difficult time, but they have been doing an excellent job so far in being supportive.”
Students can contact the University Counseling Center at (202) 994-5300 to talk with a professional.
A vigil to commemorate Dierdorff’s life will most likely take place in the next week.
-Michael Barnett contributed to this report.