Community Gathers to Express Care and Compassion

News subtitle

Hundreds join together on Baker Lawn to share their grief and offer support.

Looking out through a paned window onto a crowd gathered on Baker-Berry lawn
(Photo by Katie Lenhart)

Members of the Dartmouth community stood together on Baker Lawn today to support one another, offer care and compassion, and let people know that there are many paths to seek help in the wake of recent student deaths.

Friends, professors, coaches, counselors, and others stand ready to listen and support students, speakers told the hundreds of students, faculty, staff, and trustees who attended the chilly afternoon gathering.

“We as a community have experienced unspeakable loss and tragedy. Nothing said here today will ever take away that pain, but the pain we feel, the grief we bear, is a sign that we are human and that we love deeply. So take time to be alone, to be together, to hug your friends and care for yourself,” said Jessica Chiriboga ’23, vice president of Dartmouth Student Government.

Support services and places to gather for community members have been offered this week with counselors continuing to be available. Call 603-646-9440 for an appointment during business hours, and after hours call 603-646-9442 to speak to the counselor on call.

Throughout the half-hour event, speakers underscored the power of helping each other in less formal ways, as well.

“It’s so important to provide one another with support in these difficult times,” said College Chaplain Nancy Vogele ’85. She said her wish or prayer would be that gathering together would “help us all, as we process our grief about the really difficult events we’re going through right now.”

Interim Dean of the College Scott C. Brown said there’s not a person who would be untouched by the recent losses.

“The best we can do is care for one another and respond with compassion, connection, and courage,” said Brown, who asked those gathered to take a moment to feel the ground beneath their feet, the cool breeze, and the closeness, warmth, and strength of the community around them. “May we all be enveloped in its care.”

The gathering follows the death this week of Sam Gawel ’23 and last month of Joshua Watson ’23, Alexandra Simpson ’22, and David Gallagher ’20.

“The Dartmouth community is one of care and compassion, and I hope we can all draw strength from one another and lean on the Dartmouth fellowship to help us through these dark times,” President Philip J. Hanlon ’77 told the crowd.

David Millman ’23, president of Dartmouth Student Government also spoke, as did graduate student Irma Vlasac, president of the Graduate Student Council.

Millman said it’s all right to take time to grieve, cry, and reach out to others.

“It does not make you weak at all to talk about how you’re struggling,” he said. “No one should be ashamed to talk about their mental health and what they’re dealing with.”

As the event drew to a close, Vogele echoed the previous speakers.

“We are shocked. We are sad, despairing, angry, numb,” she said. And yet, in the midst of all our grief and pain and confusion, “acts of kindness and compassion keep springing up.”

From the staff at Novak Café “writing kind messages on our drinks,” to a student who baked cookies in Brace Commons and invited others to come by and get one, Vogele said she’s heard “testimony after testimony” about simple acts of kindness that have made a huge difference this week.

She encouraged the crowd to keep that kindness going, and to use the postcards provided at the gathering and in Baker-Berry Library to share kind thoughts with family members of those who have died, the community at large, or whoever else might need support.

Many of those who gathered for the event would linger afterward, talking quietly in small groups, hugging, and silently writing messages on the colored cards.

“Thank you so much for being here today,” Vogele said in closing. “This is not the end. It’s just the beginning.”

Aimee Minbiole