Since news broke last week that students in the Mount Vernon Campus’ West Hall would be without two of their neighbors for the rest of the spring semester, there’s been an outpouring of support toward those intimately affected – even from complete strangers.
In a time of campus-wide despair after two student deaths in one week, open displays of love and camaraderie were reassuring.
At an intimate candlelight vigil Thursday night, students, faculty, administrators and parents gathered on the Marvin Center terrace to share memories and collectively mourn freshman Ben Asma and senior Lynley Redwood.
One particularly notable moment was when Student Association executive vice president Kostas Skordalos, who had known Redwood for years, talked about the importance of not letting friends drift away.
“If you guys ever have friends and you’re worried about them, just always reach out,” he said. “I’m seeing people I haven’t seen in four or five years, and I hate that it took this long under these circumstances to see them.”
But we can’t help but think that the reaction – while positive and meaningful – is distressingly temporary as the tragedy begins to fade from the public consciousness. Outpouring of support seems to dissipate too quickly after each moment of heartbreak. The stigma surrounding mental health is still pervasive no matter how aggressively students advocate for more campus counseling resources.
Students should feel as though this campus can provide them with safe harbor, allowing each and every one of us to have somewhere to seek solace. This strong sense of community we have felt over the past week should not dwindle, even as the specifics of the stories fade from immediate memory and GW begins its journey toward feeling whole again.
The responsibility to help people heal is not one that falls solely on the University Counseling Center, which held much-needed sessions on the Mount Vernon Campus last week.
In fact, we all have a part to play in fighting the stigma surrounding mental health treatment. We all have an obligation to welcome any and all students into our collective fold, doing our best to alleviate judgmental thoughts and phrases from our campus lexicon. If friends seem unhappy or lost, we have a responsibility to embrace their struggles instead of turning the other way.
The service held Thursday was small. There was no campus-wide email notifying the entire community that it was happening. The event wasn’t shared on the University’s Facebook or Twitter accounts. People who attended were those who were part of the same communities as the students who died. We understand that in times of deep mourning, it may be best to keep these kinds of events between close friends.
But there is a collective sadness at hand, too, that you might have experienced walking around campus.
It is important that in the upcoming days, all students find ways to grieve and to heal, whether that’s at a large University-sponsored memorial service, at a series of mental health discussions, at a short meeting with a student organization or club team, or even with some good friends.
Even after our grief heals, our support systems must stand strong when the sadness subsides. Our work to come together cannot be fleeting.