It is not unusual for me to be called when a student is having a problem. This time, the student - Melisse Buland (at right) - had taken off, and her friends were worried. So, I found myself driving around town looking for a crazy woman. She had favorite spots, including Mahnke Park and the San Antonio River, where it runs through Brackenridge Park. No Melisse, but we were almost arrested by the Park Rangers.
As often happens in situations like this, the wayward student had come back to campus while we were searching. This would be the first of many wild goose chases I went on for Melisse. The last was when I went to her funeral. Melisse took her life on December 1, 2006, while on leave from Trinity University.
Melisse was no ordinary person, and the message from her family was loud and clear - her bi-polar disease got her. Their Melisse wouldn't have done this on her own. I think they were right. The Melisse I didn't know was the star high school athlete and the incredibly bright scholar. The one I knew was deeply troubled, but always funny, often indignant, feisty, and stubborn. She was truly incredible and touched many.
Within a week of our failed search, Melisse was detained for us by Security because she was having a manic episode. Several of us sat with her while awaiting her parents to arrive from Fort Worth - a semester lost... one of many to come. It was then that I first actually met her and was drawn into her witty, silly, painful world. Plenty of other were too.
A year later, she ran away again, only to be arrested for kicking an Alamo Heights police officer. My most poignant memory of Melisse, though, was when I visited her in a local hospital ward and as I was entering the unit (from where she was being moved) and heard her yell, "Wait, stop: That's my Dean of Students." Never, ever had I felt so needed by a student. We sat and visited, while she told me about how crazy everyone else there was. Though I bet most still live today.
The phone call from her father on December 2nd shook me. It was the same call I received from my father on February 16, 1981, when, as a junior in college, I learned that my mother had taken her life.
I would never glorify the act of suicide. But I can see it as an act that requires some courage, rather being an act of weakness. My mother knew pain, lots of it, and needed a way out. For Melisse it was the same. In last week's Trinitonian, Haley Mathis reported that 3% of Trinity students consider suicide each semester and 7% of students have considered suicide at least once.
But there are other choices. Ask the many students and employees at Trinity who have lost a loved one to suicide. For those in need, there is help. Our tight-knit community paves the way for students to express concern and seek assistance for their friends. Family members will sacrifice anything to keep loved ones alive. There is tremendous help in the community and on-line and through hot-lines.
At Trinity we have plenty of resources to assist students. The Student Success Behavioral Assessment Team is set-up to identify students who are troubled. Other resources include counselors, the chaplain, residential life staff, on-line resources from the Counseling Services, and even me. For the Dean of Students - it's personal.