By Chelsea LoCascio
Eclipsed by the blinding stadium lights and cheers of girl’s field hockey fans, students shared their darkest moments by the glow of candlelight in the AIMM amphitheater.
What seemed like a seamless shift from laughter and smiles to self-reflection and understanding, PRISM’s Lantern Vigil on Thursday, Oct. 16, at 8:30 p.m. aimed to remind students of those in the LGBTQ community who have passed from hate crimes or suicide as part of Queer Awareness Month.
“There is hope,” said Robin Schmitz, sophomore criminology major and PRISM’s community advocacy chair, in her introduction. “We are not alone in this fight anymore.”
Functioning as a wake-up call for the community, the speakers at the event intended to prevent any more lives from being taken.
PRISM, along with the help of To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA), wants everyone to “remember those who we lost (and) to prevent anymore … to keep as many names off the list,” said Mary-Elizabeth Thompson, a sophomore women’s and gender studies major and TWLOHA secretary.
Thompson reminded everyone of this past National Suicide Prevention Day on Sept. 10 where 395 flags lined Green Hall, each one representing 100 suicides that occur annually, with a quarter of them from members of the LGBTQ community.
Thompson, who has experienced depression for the past 10 years, offered some advice.
“It isn’t always obvious that someone is hurting,” said Thompson. “(I) encourage you to let people help you … reach out for help (from) loved ones. I guarantee they will care.”
When the floor opened up, Jordan Stefanski, a junior nursing major and member of Delta Lambda Phi fraternity, took the stage and recounted a tragic yet uplifting story regarding a fellow brother in need.
Delta Lambda Phi, a fraternity for gay, bisexual and progressive men, held a ceremony where Stefanski met a fraternity brother from Los Angeles, C.A. This brother later called Stefanski and told him about his suicidal thoughts. For hours, Stefanski listened and persuaded him to acknowledge that suicide was not the answer.
“There’s always at least one person who cares … me,” Stefanski said, repeating a line that helped him during his phone conversation. “Reach out and touch … even if they’re 3,000 miles away. If someone is in distress … you can always do something. I personally believe it is a matter of reaching out.”
Next came Disha Dass, a senior psychology and women’s and gender studies double major and vice president of PRISM, with a memory of watching her best friend perform in the “Laramie Project: Ten Years Later” at Fairleigh Dickinson University.
According to Playbill, this play is about the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay 21-year-old, in Laramie, W.Y.
“There is still a lot of hate and sentiment and violence against qu eer individuals, and we need to talk about it,” Dass said.
Despite the hatred and violence that continues off campus, the LGBTQ community is grateful for the College’s increasingly accepting environment.
Megan Osika, a senior English, secondary education and women’s and gender studies triple major and president of PRISM, gave closing remarks about her appreciation for the College’s concern.
“In the wake of all the destruction (and) violence, I’m so proud of (the) TCNJ community and their support,” Osika said.
Osika let everyone know that when PRISM’s signs were knocked down during Welcome Week, the College’s students, staff, campus police and many others contacted her in hopes that this was not a hate crime.
“People are looking out for us … people have our backs,” Osiak said. “When I leave this campus, that’s a different story.”