Google Analytics Tracking Code

Thursday, March 31, 2016

A moment to be grateful for

On March 30, 2015, five first-year students were involved in a car accident near campus. Four were hospitalized with a range of injuries. Corey Byrnes died at the scene. A year later, Trinity University paused to recognize the one year anniversary of this tragic day, and dedicate a bench in Corey's honor. The site was selected by his friends near their residence, Calvert Hall. Here are excerpts from the remarks and a video of the fairly brief but moving ceremony is included in this post. (Video by Tim Zhang.)

Dean of Students, David Tuttle
Unfortunately, we have lost students and young alumni before. If you walk this campus you will see their memorials. For all of these young people, their friends and families felt it was important to have a market, somewhere here, that expressed that these young people lived here, learned here, studied here, played here, and mattered here. What an incredible honor it is for us as a campus to celebrate their lives in these tangible memorials that reflect how much they mattered to us too. When we pass this spot and when you come back to visit as alumni, you will reflect on Corey, and his life, and your grief, and how they are inseparable and permanent.

Class of 2018 Alumni Sponsor - Leni Kirkman
I don't want to stand here putting words in the mouth of your dear friend Corey - but I'm pretty sure he's left us a good recipe for living. Putting aside the pains of the past, and our worries for the future - and finding happiness in the present: Easy to say, much harder to do - but I think that is what I will try to do each time I come sit on Corey's bench.

Chaplin, Stephen Nickle
March 30, 2016
We gather on this anniversary of his death feeling a mixture of sadness and glad memories. We gather to dedicate this bench in Corey's memory, to mark in an explicit way our gladness at having journeyed a piece with him, and our sadness at his death. Lord, this memorial bench created a space of rest and encounter: of shared laughter, of honest argument, or trusting vulnerability -- all of which were precious to those who knew Corey, all of which are precious to each of us in many other friendships.

Class of 2018 Class Marshal, Jennifer Henderson
Corey was a student in my first year seminar course - a course on Women and Technology in Media. This is a course he didn't really expect to be taking, but one he was game to dive into. I can see Corey on the left side of the classroom, five seats down. I can see him raising his hand anytime we talked about video games or movies. When I remember Corey, all of the snapshots are of him laughing. Laughing with his friends. Laughing at my inability to get the computer projector to work...again. Laughing at himself. Corey laughed a lot. He laughed easily and sometimes for not outward reason at all.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Kindred Spirits

Drinking buddies.
"People contact me all the time and say 'your story is MY story." So said author Sarah Hepola to a riveted crowd in Laurie Auditorium on Thursday (March 3, 2016) at an event sponsored by the Coalition for Respect and Greek Council. Well, I was thinking the same thing. I have revealed my own drinking history to the campus, first in a 2004 Trinitonian column (that time Spurs owner Peter Holt was the catalyst) and in countless welcome and diversity speeches at New Student Orientation.

I like to talk openly about my dysfunctional family history, my drinking, and my social anxiety. I want students to not see me as a bland and condescending bureaucrat. I want my failures to make me approachable and a safe resource for students when they hit their lows. How can I judge given the things I have done? And there are plenty of adults like me around campus that students should and do look to during their most vulnerable moments. So of course I am drawn to Sarah's candid and blunt accounts of her black-out history. Forgive me for gravy-training.

Sarah's talk triggered a flood of liquid gold memories for me. It has been over 30 years after all, so I don't go back there very often any more, back to the spirits and ghosts. The consistencies between our stories - and apparently the stories of many - are both shocking and yet not at all surprising. I will spare the details of my past, except to say I imposed blackouts on my self nearly every weekend for several years running during college. It didn't stop afterwards, and that's when I knew I wanted to forge a different path for my own yet-to-be-created family.

Dinner with the speaker and Trinity people.
Like Sarah, I felt emboldened by my alcohol use and belittled others as amateurs. Most striking in her speech were these incredible nuggets: knowing from the first time that this was a problem; treating non-drinkers as less-worthy "light-weights;" hiding behind one-night stands and cigarettes as adventurous and cool; and building a drinking identity that masked fears, anxieties, and low self-esteem.

Interesting and sad stories we have to tell. But what is the take-away for our students? Sarah was spot on from the start when she told students that she wouldn't tell them not to drink or drink less - because they probably wouldn't listen. At the end of the day students will make their own choices and take their own risks. And there are lots of risks. What I had in common with Sarah was the fun, exhilaration, transformation, and brazenness alcohol created. How dare either of us serve ourselves up as cautionary tales? The best way is to name it: that if students feel the way we did about their relationship with alcohol, then they should take pause. Serious pause. Look at the full arc of our stories to see the almost cataclysmic results that somehow ended in at least some redemption.

Some of my history guides my thinking in leading policy discussions on campus. The Optimal Buzz and B'Low Optimal programs acknowledge that students will drink but gives them incentive to do so moderately. Currently, we are fully reviewing our off-campus alcohol policies and guidelines with the Athletic Council and Greek Council. (That will be another post altogether.) I anticipate revisions that shift responsibility to individuals more than groups and that further strengthen our commitment to student health and safety above policy enforcement.

Sarah described college as that fun time of freedom between adolescence and adulthood. Why wouldn't students have fun with alcohol? By describing her experiences in Black Out, and taking her story to college students Sarah Hepola is offering up an important and very personal story.

Over dinner with a group of students, staff, and faculty at a local restaurant, Sarah answered questions, spoke with passion and humor, and was candid about her story and the culture of drinking. As our waitress, Amber, thanked us for our business, she revealed, tearfully, that she herself was 263 days sober. "You should listen to her," she said of my new kindred spirit, and hers. "She speaks the truth," said Amber. She does indeed.