Community grieves after loss of first-year student
Katherine "Kat" Sommers '14 died on campus Feb. 15 due to what appeared to be a suicide, according to an e-mail sent that night to the Brandeis community by Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Student Life Rick Sawyer.In an interview with the Justice, Tiffany Smith, Sommers' older sister who described having a close relationship with Sommers, said that Sommers had always been "very happy, very cheerful."
Smith, who lives in Newton, Mass. and is married to a Brandeis graduate student, said that she had not seen any indication that something may have been wrong. "[Sommers] was so happy to be up at Brandeis. I mean, we saw her regularly and she always had a big smile on her face, so she was pretty good at hiding [what was bothering her]. ... It's really sad," she said.
In an interview with the Justice, Katharine Glanbock '14, who said that Sommers had been one of her best friends at Brandeis, described Sommers as "unconditionally loving" and a "wonderful listener."
"If there was any one person I could've asked to make my transition into college as smooth as it could've been, she was the person to have been there." Glanbock said.
Glanbock said that Sommers had always put others before herself. "I was always so appreciative of how caring and maternal she was that I never realized how burdened she'd been. ... There's only so much you can do when someone is selfless to the point of not expressing everything they're feeling," she said.
Glanbock also said that, "[Sommers] had gone through a terrible year and she dealt with it so stoically that I thought it sprang from her strength and her maturity." Glanbock did not specify what had been bothering Sommers.
In an interview with the Justice, Simon Cramer '13, who had started dating Sommers this semester, described her as stoic, funny and sarcastic." However, Cramer also said that he "didn't know [Sommers] that well" because they had just started dating.
"[Sommers] always seemed like she was dealing with a lot of stuff in the background, but ... she was coping and doing pretty well with it, just like, 'Oh okay, yeah I'm doing this, this and this. You didn't need to worry about it, I'm fine,' and she really seemed fine, not tense at all or anything," Cramer said.
Glanbock said that Sommers had been a History major, with a special interest in colonial American history. "I remember her telling me how excited she was because she had really hit it off with the History department. ... She was doing well in her History classes," she said.
Smith said that Sommers had considered pursuing a master's degree in History but didn't have any concrete future plans.
Sommers had been taking ENG 10b, "Poetry: A Basic Course" with Prof. Laura Quinney (ENG). In an interview with the Justice, Quinney said, "I was very shocked because [Sommers] seemed so bright and full of life."
Various departments and groups within the Brandeis community, including the Department of Community Living, the Interfaith Chaplaincy and the Student Union held events in Sommers' memory. Additionally, resources on campus, such as the Brandeis Counseling and Rape Crisis Hotline, offered services to affected students.
Smith said that she was contacted by University administrators after Sommers' death. "Everyone there was very concerned, offering their condolences. Their response couldn't have been better," she said.
Cramer said that he was "really awed by the length to which the community went to make sure that everyone would pull through."
The Student Union organized a memorial walk followed by a vigil in Sherman Function Hall Feb. 17. The event was attended by numerous students, administrators and faculty.
-Fiona Lockyer contributed reporting.