Justin Peligri: Working through unanswerable questions after campus heartbreak

When a single residence hall loses three of its students in the frighteningly short span of three months, we find few certainties and facts to cling to.

Words elude us. Explanations are hazy. Rumors spread. We don’t know how to react, what emotions to feel or who to hug.

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo
Justin Peligri

We’ve seen a tremendous outpouring of support for those close to Ben Asma and Lynley Redwood. But as a community, we’re still left with so many questions.

What is it that GW is missing?

As conversations move on to other topics, we’re left to struggle and ponder, weighing the knowns and unknowns.

What we know is that despite an increase in counseling services and tireless efforts by the University Counseling Center and student leaders to improve a rocky history with mental health services, we still see students who are too afraid to discuss their struggles.

What we know is that there is still a pervasive stigma surrounding mental health treatment. More often than not, students here and everywhere are afraid to share troubling truths and lean on others. Some of that stigma, of course, is deeply rooted and pathological. Some of it is institutional.

But we want to know more. We want to understand the causes of this heartbreak in order to achieve peace.

Often, suicides are attributed to a feeling of not fitting in. A sense of alienation from the group. An immense notion of loneliness that gets mixed with depression and mental anguish. So many of us are asking ourselves: Was that the case here?

But as much as we yearn for the truth – as much as we want all the answers – the bottom line is that we won’t know why these things happen.

Exploring heartbreak – and the reasons behind it – in times like these can be painful. But it can also be positive and worthwhile if it leads to substantive change, either on the University level or on a more personal one.

This tough question lingers: What is it that GW is missing? How do we build and sustain a campus community where every single student feels confident enough to speak up and, if needed, ask for help?

It’s worth considering – understanding that a complete answer might never come – in the hope that we can collectively arrive at some sort of reassurance. If we can lift the social barriers that prevent even a few students from seeking help, then we’ve taken small steps in the right direction.

As I watch tours of prospective students walk through the second floor of Gelman Library where I sit writing this column, I wonder how many of them know what we all know – that the University grieves this week after losing two of our own.

There’s so much I wish I could say to reassure them. As they traverse campus learning about the University’s financial aid policies and academic programs, I hope they also know this: GW is a place where, despite a particularly difficult semester, lasting memories are made and a strong sense of community lives and breathes.

And when they matriculate here this fall, it’s their duty to make it even stronger.

Justin Peligri, a junior majoring in political communication, is The Hatchet’s opinions editor.

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