Thursday, August 11, 2011


A couple of weeks ago I was out in Mission Beach on a Saturday night celebrating the upcoming wedding of my "Theta Little Sis" from years ago.  (If you are an undergrad from USD, you're welcome for not making it down to South Mission.)  Earlier that week, I had developed my next 4 topics for posting and one of them was to share with you this story of Katie.  In one of those "the universe has a message" moments, Katie's story came up at dinner.  Interestingly, what was a raw and painful memory for me was just a story that was being told over dinner.  One more reminder that different people are impacted different ways. Here is my story...

In life, there are defining moments.  Moments in time where life can be measured as before XYZ and after XYZ.  Katie's story is one of those moments for me. As an undergraduate, I served San Diego State's Panhellenic Association as their President.  Katie was my Vice President, a member of Alpha Chi Omega and a good friend.  She was beautiful, smart, and well-liked by just about everyone.  During my time, Theta and A Chi O were close chapters.  Each Fall, we hosted a date dance together and many of our members were good friends.  We were elected in March and worked closely together all Spring, summer and Fall.  I can still remember talking on the phone late at night on November 8th with my then-boyfriend (now husband, Kevin) and him telling me that someone had jumped from the new parking structure on campus.  His fraternity house was nearby and several of them had gone over when the sirens were heard.  They didn't have any details, but it was unsettling.  Early the next morning, the ringing phone woke me.  It was Kevin.  All he said was, "Mandy, it was Katie."

In this defining moment, my perspective was changed in many ways.  As I look back, I suppose the most important one was how I viewed my friends.  As an involved and trained student leader, I was utterly unprepared for How To Help A Friend.  I knew that our advisors were there for us if we had questions.  But, I had no idea how to look out for those around me and get them the help they needed.  In following the See Action, Take Action: The Dan Plan themes of Personal Responsibility, I saw that my Community had dropped the ball on #2.
  1. Take Care of Yourself
  2. Take Care of Each Other
  3. Take Care of This Place
Katie's death had a ripple effect throughout the community.  As the IFC President and I walked from chapter house to chapter house to meet with each sorority president, it became clear that we hadn't been taking care of each other - and we needed to begin now.  No one had put Katie on their radar - she was "fine" and "had it all under control".  She was admired, loved and on the outside had it all together.  In the wake of her suicide, the signs of her unhappiness were easier to see. As the weeks wore on, our campus resources ensured that "This Place" would heal.

When I googled "how to help a friend", there were over 2 billion matches found in .18 seconds.  How To Help A Friend Handout  So much information is out there.  So, what is holding us back?  We don't want our friends to be hurting, so why in those peer to peer relationships aren't the hard questions being asked?  USD's Counseling Center/Wellness Area has some incredibly talented and caring staff.  How do we get those with really significant needs connected?

The answer (for me) is that we care enough to risk the relationship by saying the difficult things.  Our friends may get angry, but isn't it worth it to Take Care of Each Other?  
  • "I notice you've lost a lot of weight and I'm worried about you." 
  • "I haven't seen you this unhappy before.  I think talking to someone at the University would help?"
  • "When you say that you wish you weren't here any more...  Are you thinking about hurting yourself?"
  • "You've been drinking more than before. I feel like it's impacting our friendship/your academics/your health."
And, then, we get them the help they need.  As peers, you walk them to the Counseling Center or you call their family or you bring them to the SLIC for us to get them into the care of our Wellness Area.

We are here for you.  

I am here for you.

Take Care of Each Other.