Students walked arm-in-arm around Fairfield University’s campus to raise money and awareness for Suicide Prevention on Sunday, April 7 as a part of the annual Out of the Darkness Suicide Prevention Walk. Among those walking included survivors, friends, those who had lost family members or loved ones, those who personally struggle with mental illness and others who wished to support the important cause.
The event began around 11 a.m. at the stag statue as students who had not registered yet did so in the Gonzaga auditorium. Students who had registered talked amongst themselves, danced to the music that rang throughout the campus and donned the wristbands, beads and pins that were being given out by student volunteers until the opening ceremonies began around 12 p.m.
“I was inspired to be a volunteer because I have personally dealt with losing loved ones to suicide and have struggled with my own mental health,” said student volunteer Cailyn Fiori ‘22 via email. “I felt it was important to play my part in supporting the cause.”
The opening ceremony included multiple speakers who discussed a variety topics. Students gathered around the area near the stag statue and listened to a discussion of suicide’s impact on minorities, poetry on mental illness, as well as personal stories that moved many in the crowd to tears.
“While the speeches were, in a sense, sad, they were also honest and moving,” wrote Christina Gibbons ‘20. “When I looked around and saw the other walkers listening to the speakers, I could tell how much the speeches, poems and personal stories really resonated with them. It made me feel like I wasn’t alone and I wasn’t the only one who has faced their own battles.”
An important part of the opening ceremony involved students donning different colored beads. Each color signified a different connection to mental illness and suicide, allowing students to show how they had personally been affected. Teal, for example, represented a friend’s struggle, green signified a personal struggle and blue represented an overall support for the cause. There were also colors to represent the loss of a parent, the loss of a child and the loss of a partner among others. Students were asked to wear the beads around their arms. The colors were then read aloud one by one, along with what they signified, and students placed the beads around their neck as their color was called.
It was also during the opening ceremony that the event’s organizer, Alice Rodriguez ‘20, thanked everyone for coming and announced a record amount of money donated for the university.
“The event was open to everyone, not just Fairfield students,” said Rodriguez via email. “We had 200 registered walkers ahead of time, and 51 walk-up registration. 20 pre-registered walkers did not show up so we had 180 walkers present. The event has come a long way since its inception only two years ago in 2017, when it involved 50 students. Rodriguez acknowledged this, saying, “There was $25,404 raised this year! At the first walk, there was $2,131 raised. One of our students, Margot Deely, was [the] top fundraiser in the country!”
The money raised went to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). AFSP is one of the largest organizations working for suicide prevention, and, “raises awareness, funds scientific research and provides resources and aid to those affected by suicide,” according to their website.
The walk itself began around 1 p.m. with students walking the first few minutes linked arm-in-arm. The route took students through the village, past the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts, up the hill by the Charles F. Dolan School of Business and back to the stag statue. A picture with all participants was taken once everyone returned. The event continued after the walk, as students danced to the DJ being as popcorn and cotton candy was brought out. Students left with the feeling that they were not alone in their struggles.
“My favorite part was during the ceremony when I saw the community come together to support each other and anyone who has been struggling,” said Jack Campbell ‘21.
When asked why the event was important to the University, Rodriguez said, “I see this as being part of a larger conversation of mental health– about erasing the negative stigmas, making help more accessible to people, and letting each other know that we are never walking our paths alone, no matter how difficult.”