Featured Image: Students and community members create a memory quilt with chalk in front of the Hofheimer Library. McKenna Howenstine | Marlin Chronicle
On the eve of World Suicide Prevention Day, Virginia Wesleyan University geared up for its annual Suicide Awareness Walk and Memory Chalk event. This vital initiative, now in its third year, aims to shine a spotlight on suicide prevention and provide a platform for students and the community to come together, remember those lost to suicide and raise awareness about this critical issue.
The event, organized by VWU’s Office of Counseling and Student Health, occurred Friday, Sept. 8. It is a time when the VWU community comes together to foster an environment of support, understanding and compassion. In its first year, 50 students participated, while the second year saw over 70 attendees. This increasing engagement signifies a growing awareness and willingness among students to address this crucial issue.
The walk began with a gathering at the Harbor Grill, where students and community members signed a banner and left heartfelt messages in honor of loved ones who have been affected by suicide. Jason Seward, Associate Vice President at VWU, led the event by emphasizing the unique and close-knit community at the university, highlighting the importance of supporting one another in preventing suicide. He spoke passionately about the special bond that unites the VWU community, making it easier for individuals to reach out for help when needed.
“Suicide has affected all of us. All of us know someone struggling. All of us know someone that has chosen it,” Seward said. Seward shared his own experience with suicide, as his uncle took his own life in 1994.
“I say this because what that person that you know is struggling with, thinking that there’s nobody there, there is. There’s a 13-year-old that just wanted to hug his uncle,” Seward said. “No matter how bad it is, life goes on, and I guarantee you, tomorrow will be better.”
Following Seward’s address, April Christman, director of Counseling and Student Health, shared the importance of being mindful of suicide.
“When people fear something or something carries a stigma, we tend not to talk about it because it makes us uncomfortable, it makes us sad, angry, but by not talking about it, that is what leads to the event happening,” Christman said.
Looking specifically at the average age group of VWU students, ages 15 to 24, suicide is the third leading cause of death. Christman highlighted this statistic as a huge motivation for the VWU community, especially students, to participate in events like the Suicide Awareness Walk and Memory Chalk event.
At the event, participants embarked on a peaceful walk around the VWU campus, making a final stop outside the Hofheimer Library to create a memory quilt with sidewalk chalk. This touching display featured uplifting messages and memories of loved ones affected by suicide. The event, designed to be somber yet hopeful, had peaceful music playing in the background and counselors available on-site to offer support.
Christman can see the sidewalk chalk from her office window.
“I will see students sitting and reading it, I see them crying as they do. And it is just so profound. It is hard to walk away and not feel your heart touched,” Christman said. Christman further explained that she hopes the walk helps initiate important conversations about mental health, suicide prevention and the various sources of support available on campus like the Bandana Project training and counseling. She also stressed the importance of teaching individuals not only to recognize their emotions but also to be kind to themselves — “that is the first step to any kind of healing,” Christman said. “I am not saying that kindness alone prevents suicide, but if we’re kind to ourselves, we don’t beat ourselves up every day, then people feel comfortable saying, ‘Hey, can you help me?’”
MK Morris Larkin, a sophomore, attended the Suicide Awareness Walk and Memory Chalk event for her second time this year. Morris Larkin believes that the event is a good way to bring awareness to suicide prevention and the many resources VWU has to offer.
“I think [the walk] shows good support and may even open some people’s eyes to be like, ‘Hey, maybe people realize that this is a struggle and there are resources,’” Morris Larkin said.
Other staff members who deeply care about mental health joined the walk. Marie Porter, director of Campus Ministries shared the importance of having a sense of community and showed support for this event
“For spiritual wellness, you need to have community, doing something like this walk together can be very profound,” Porter said. “It is so important for this campus that it is small enough that we are a family.”
Similarly, Annette Clayton, chair of Social Work, revealed that events like this one, “provide the opportunity for students to have some real discussions in class and learn about the prevalence and incidents of certain types of mental health crises, including suicide ideation and suicide prevalence.”
As Virginia Wesleyan University continues to prioritize mental health and suicide prevention, events like the Suicide Awareness Walk and Memory Chalk event play an essential role in fostering a supportive community. By promoting open conversations, providing resources and teaching valuable skills, VWU aims to create an environment where kindness and understanding are the first steps toward healing.
By Daniela Angeles Galvan