The dark, cold Friday night was made brighter and warmer by the dozens of candles held by the community of Rowan students on the back patio of the Student Center. The student held vigil was to remember the three Rowan students that were lost to suicide this semester.
The vigil was due in part by two Rowan students, Destiny Hall and Monica Foley. As the two planned the event, other Rowan students helped organize the vigil after the idea went viral on social media.
The vigil originally intended for students to bring their own candles, but an anonymous source graciously donated them for the event.
“I wanted to take a second to remember everyone and to honor everybody who was lost to suicide this year,” Hall, a junior, said. “They’re real people and I wanted to honor them and do right by them.”
Hall started the event by sharing some words with everyone, as well as giving a moment of silence for each person lost to suicide throughout the semester.
Before the vigil started, however, students gathered together and were transparent with their concerns. Their grievances, and their frustrations, were due in large part to another student’s alleged fall from the Rowan Boulevard parking garage on Thursday.
“I’m here to show Rowan University and President Houshmand that we care and that we are angry and we’re not going to take off the pressure we put on them to make this crisis a little easier,” junior Julia Konstantinos said.
“I want Rowan to admit it has issues,” senior Alexander Swankoski said. “That it grew too quickly, that it took on more than it could handle. They’re paying for it now in the fact that there’s a mental health crisis on their campus that they weren’t prepared to handle.”
“My friend called the Wellness Center because she was worried about me,” Konstantinos said. “They gave me one call and then never followed up. I don’t blame the mental health professionals there, but I do blame President Houshmand and the board of administrators for not funneling money into the Wellness Center to fix this problem.”
As the event continued, there was an open mic portion which gave the opportunity for anyone to speak. One by one, students came to the center of the open circle and spoke their truths. Each person was a stitch that further pulled the Rowan community together.
“The way that I was raised, and the way society says, is if you ask for help then you’re not strong,” one Rowan male student said. “If you seek out help it makes you stronger than if you didn’t seek out help.”
Many students who spoke during the open mic portion offered themselves as support systems to students who may need them.
“I’m scared of this happening to someone I know,” one female student said. “I just want you all to know if you need anything or if you just need someone to talk to or listen, I’m right here.”
“Everyone, just in your head,” another male Rowan student said, “tell yourself that you matter because you definitely do.”
Across campus, Rowan Active Minds also held a vigil at Wilson Hall to honor those lost to suicide. Much like the vigil at the Student Center, an open mic portion was open to students who wished to address their concerns in both a constructive and artistic way.
Project manager and Rowan alum Joe Friedman joined the vigil at Wilson Hall to remember the Rowan students that passed, while also partaking in the emotional open mic portion of the event. Once an addict himself, Friedman was genuinely surprised about the experiences that Rowan students are having at his former alma mater.
“I wish that it didn’t take people killing themselves for this shit to happen,” Friedman said. “But generally this is the wake up call. I’m used to this. Dealing with addiction, the addiction tends to be the predecessor to the depression. My depression is not there when I’m sober and thankfully I’ve been proactive with my sobriety. I’m happy that I’m getting into the swing of things and I know it’s not always easy for some.”
As the event began to wind down, Friedman believed that vigil at Wilson Hall addressed the concerns that some students might feel about themselves.
“I think the general concern is loneliness,” Friedman said. “I think it’s the delusion of separation that our consciousness is. If we can break through that and realize how similar we actually are, then that’s the ticket to loving ones self and each other.”
If you are struggling with any of this information, you can speak with a counselor at the Wellness Center at 856-256-4333. They also have 24/7 counseling at 856-256-4922.
If you are in a suicidal crisis or emotional distress, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK), available 24/7.
Further reporting by Alexander Heller.
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