April 2, 2018

Dear Faculty, Staff, and Students,

The last weeks have been a time of tremendous loss, followed by shock and grief at the deaths of Professor Jeffrey Ferguson and our students, Andrew Dorogi and Christopher Collins. Every one of these three people had a significant impact on our community and each one of them will be sorely missed. The evident sense of loss on campus and the outpouring of support from the community have been a source of comfort to the families and friends of those we have lost.

Dealing with loss is difficult under any circumstances. It is even harder when there are unanswered or unanswerable questions about the cause of death. As you know from my earlier note, Jeff Ferguson lost a courageous battle with cancer. The life he lived after his initial diagnosis was a testament to his strength and love of life. The cause of Andrew’s death is still unknown and under investigation. We know from his family that he did not die of suicide. Andrew was loved for his friendliness, joyfulness, sense of fun, and inclusiveness, and we will create an opportunity on campus to come together in his memory. Chris’ family has been open and has allowed us to be open about the fact that he took his own life after a long struggle with severe mental illness. Chris was loved for his thoughtfulness and kindness, his genuine curiosity about others, and his love of family, friends, music, baseball, and writing, among many other qualities. I cannot think about my friend Jeff without thinking of his smile and his distinctive laugh. It has struck me over the past two weeks that many of you count their smiles among your treasured memories of Andrew and Chris. 

As I have written and said before, every new loss calls up other losses we have experienced. We also know that loss — especially when that loss results from suicide — can lead to feelings of vulnerability, anxiety, deep sadness, and depression. It can tap into our own struggles with mental health. It is for that reason that we ask you to take particularly good care of yourselves and each other in the days ahead. If you, or your friends or acquaintances seem to be struggling or feeling alone or depressed, please seek support and encourage others to do so as well. Vulnerability is not weakness and the denial of it can itself be a significant source of loneliness. Last week, Active Minds organized an exhibit in Keefe Campus Center in which a group of our students took the courageous step of calling attention to their battles with mental illness. Their goal is to remove the stigma attached to mental health problems. That should be our collective goal. There is no shame in our emotional and psychological difficulties. Under the right circumstances, which include empathy and the necessary medical or counseling help, such difficulties can in fact be a source of insight, understanding, and strength.

You are not alone.  You are surrounded by people who care and who want to help — your class deans, the Counseling Center, Religious Life, the office of Student Affairs, Resource Center directors, Residential Life staff, your faculty, and one another. Attached to this message are some resources that may be helpful to you over the coming days. I’m also once again including information about these on campus resources: 

Counseling Center
24/7, confidential resource

Religious and Spiritual Life

On-call Staff in Student Affairs
You can reach the on-call administrator by contacting the Amherst College Police Department at any time, day or night at 413/542-2291 

Please be kind and patient with yourselves and do what you can to be of comfort to one another.