Student's death shakes community
Katherine Sommers '14 died on campus Tuesday night due to what appears to be a suicide, Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Student Life Rick Sawyer wrote in an e-mail to the Brandeis community Tuesday night.Sawyer said in an interview with the Justice that a community advisor on duty had found Sommers, 18, in a Brandeis residence hall.
Sommers, of Queens, N.Y., was studying History at the University, according to her Facebook profile page.
Sawyer said that he; University President Frederick Lawrence; and the Rev. Walter Cuenin, the University's Catholic chaplain, have all spoken with Sommers' father by telephone since Tuesday night. Sawyer also said that Sommers' sister, who lives locally and is married to a Brandeis graduate student, came to campus Tuesday night after learning of Sommers' death.
Rachael Koehler '13, a CA for Gordon Hall, said that the Department of Community Living communicated with all of the CAs after the incident occurred. She said that CAs were informed first so that "if our residents came to us or if our residents had any questions or if they needed someone to talk to, then we were aware and informed to be there and ... support our residents."
Koehler also said that CAs for all first-year residence halls gathered their residents to inform them of the incident and to let them know that the CAs were available to provide support.
Various departments and groups within the Brandeis community, including the DCL, the Interfaith Chaplaincy and the Student Union, have scheduled events in Sommers' memory. In addition, many resources on campus have made themselves available to provide support to the community. For example, the Brandeis Counseling and Rape Crisis Hotline offered its services in a campuswide e-mail sent by Student Union Secretary Herbie Rosen '12 Wednesday evening.
"We are holding Kat, her family, her friends, and the entire Brandeis community in our prayers today, and in the days to come, as we gather to heal, remember, and pledge ourselves to one another and to the precious gift that is our life together," Protestant chaplain Alex Kern wrote in Rosen's e-mail.
Cuenin met Wednesday morning with students who were affected by the loss. The Psychological Counseling Center also held a special group session Wednesday night.
"All day today our residence staff have been in the halls. They were in the halls last night. All the [community development coordinators] are on campus, on duty, walking the halls [and] talking to people," Sawyer said Wednesday afternoon.
Student Union President Daniel Acheampong '11 wrote in a campuswide e-mail Wednesday morning that a memorial walk from the Peace Circle to Sherman Function Hall will take place Thursday at 11 a.m. Acheampong wrote that the memorial walk will be followed by a vigil in Sherman Function Hall "in memory of Kat and in support of her family and friends."
"Right now it's so important for us to be there, to hug someone, smile at someone and really hold them and be there," Acheampong said in an interview with the Justice.
Regarding the student response on campus, Sawyer said that the initial hours have been "fairly traumatic" but that staff members of the Division of Student Life "are busy doing lots of things to support students and to communicate" with the student body.
"As the hours go by and then days go by the strength of the student body tends to emerge from the trauma," he said.
Sawyer said that the Division of Student Life had recently interacted with Sommers, since she moved to a different room on campus last week due to what sawyer said was a typical "roommate issue" and not a source of concern for Sommers' personal safety. "We were involved in the move. It was a supported move," he said.
"We were involved with her, but if anyone had thought that this outcome was a possibility, ... that would have been addressed. No one saw this coming," he said.
"I think it's important for people to know that nothing was missed here. There [were] no signs that got overlooked; there was no outright sort of indication, signal, [or] call for help."
Sawyer said that the University has a "very tight safety net" in terms of student safety, largely due to students looking out for each other's well-being.
"A lot of the attention we bring to certain students is a result of other students bringing that student to our attention. ... We've always been very, very confident in the depth and breadth of our safety system here on campus, which includes everybody-faculty, staff, students," Sawyer said. He added that no "radical changes" will be made to the support system at Brandeis but that it will be reviewed.
"It's a tragedy, and we're all feeling vulnerable, and we're all feeling sad, and we're all in it together," Sawyer said.
-Brian Fromm, Jeffrey Boxer and Robyn Spector contributed reporting.
Editor's note: The Justice will publish a full obituary of Ms. Sommers on March 8, the date of our next print edition.