Students organize mental health initiatives

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May 1, 2015

12:43 AM

Students at the College of William and Mary organized two mental health initiatives — “William and Mary Walk: One Tribe, One Family” and “Release: An SA Event on Healthy Grieving” — April 29 in the wake of three student suicides this academic year.

At 4:30 p.m., students gathered at the sundial across from Earl Gregg Swem Library for a silent walk to the Sir Christopher Wren Building. Following the walk, several members of the College community gave speeches.

Austin Childs ’18, who organized the walk with the help of Conor Murphy ‘16, said he wanted to bring students and faculty together in a show of support.

“I … have felt as a freshman here at the College that not enough has been done concerning the school’s response to suicide,” Childs said in an email. “I am slightly bothered by the idea that a single email informing the student body of someone’s death seems to be a sufficient response to such a mournful event. I felt that if the school was not going to take action, [then] it was up to me and other students to take action.”

In addition to showing support for the community, the walk was held to honor Peter Godshall ’15, Saipriya Rangavajhula ’17 and Paul Soutter ’17.

Anna Pelleti ’17 spoke about Rangavajhula, saying she loved yoga — according to Pelleti, she even held poses in her sleep — and had a spring in her step that often made her curls bounce up and down.

“She taught me more than I thought a 19-year-old could teach anyone,” Pelleti said.

Stephen Kang ’15, a friend of Godshall, said that everyone tended to gravitate toward him because he had a really goofy smile.

Jack Raskin ’18, who was a member of Improvisational Theater, the group Soutter was a member of, said that it was essential to remember the light and the dark within individuals like him.

“I knew deep down life was never going to be the same after I lost Paul,” he said. “But I was so incredibly touched by the amount of love I got not just from I.T. but also from the members of my fraternity, from friends on my hall and throughout campus, and even from a few professors, and that, if anything, validated ‘One Tribe, One Family’ for me.”

At 6:30 p.m., members of the community arrived at the Sunken Garden for Release.

During the event, attendees wrote words of encouragement, song lyrics or grief-relieving activities on notecards and balloons. Some opted to share their notecards or other anecdotes regarding grief with the crowd.

Music and poetry were recurring themes in individuals’ speeches. One student recited lines from the poem “Do Not Stand At My Grave and Weep,” and another shared lyrics from a song he wrote in the wake of Robin Williams’ death.

“The media portrayed it like depression didn’t kill him, he killed himself,” the student said. “It’s not a choice because it’s not your head anymore.”

Following the student speeches and a brief speech by Associate Vice President of Health and Wellness Kelly Crace, Student Assembly Secretary of Health and Safety Drea Aron-Schiavone ’15 released several balloons containing the names of things or people attendees had lost into the air.

“It’s kind of this idea of coming together in unity and collective strength surrounding our losses,” Aron-Schiavone said. “[The balloons are] a physical manifestation of the release of kind of more negative or sad [feelings] surrounding various losses. A big part of that is realizing it is healthy and completely okay to feel very sad and to feel very affected, because we feel things very deeply sometimes, and just kind of taking a moment as a community to acknowledge that it’s okay to be grieving, and it’s okay that we feel sad, and we can also support one another.”

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About Author

Meilan Solly

Chief Staff Writer Meilan Solly '18 is an English major in the W&M/University of St Andrews Joint Degree Programme. Previously, she served as editor of The Saint, St Andrews' student newspaper, and an editorial intern at Smithsonian and Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazines.

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