By Laura Mortkowitz
Just as the University was recomposing after a brutal first half of the fall semester, more bad news hit Rider’s campuses. Two more students died this past weekend in separate incidents.
Junior Nicholas Costa died Sunday from injuries caused by a car crash on Friday. Senior Alicia Lehman also died Sunday from heart failure. When she was 10 years old, Lehman was the recipient of a heart transplant.
Once again, the campuses found themselves coping with more losses.
“I think what there is happening on campus is a greater sensitivity,” said Interim Director of Counseling Services Dr. Nadine Marty. “I hear people talking more about a heightened sense to how everyone has been affected specifically by the losses.”
Senior Ami Patel said the school was taking good care of students in the aftermath of so many deaths.
“I think that the University did a good job making sure that everyone has counseling if they need it,” she said.
Westminster Choir College students utilizing the counseling services has increased in the aftermath of 18-year-old freshman Justin Warfield’s alleged heroin-related death on Oct. 17.
“The counseling center has seen a rise in the number of students coming in because of this tragedy,” WCC counselor Corinne Zupko said. “The loss has affected many students at Westminster, whether they personally knew the student or not.”
At the Lawrenceville Counseling Center, Marty explained the continuous losses affecting things outside of what has happened on campus.
“I think the word that might describe it is sensitization,” she said. “They’ve been sensitized to all of this stuff.”
She added that events in people’s own lives that normally wouldn’t have as great an impact are magnified given the circumstances.
While Patel doesn’t feel there has been a decline in morale around the Lawrenceville campus, freshman Stephanie Santiago sees a discomfort among fellow freshmen.
“I know a couple of students that want to transfer next year, even next semester,” Santiago said. “Some people just want to leave.”
Dr. Alison Thomas-Cottingham, professor of psychology, sees similar reactions in her Race, Class and Gender course.
“I have students who have said, ‘I am considering leaving,’” she said. “Others say, ‘I’m not going to let this force me out.’”
The two students also share different opinions about the long-term effect on Rider’s reputation. Santiago envisions a bleak future.
“Some people say that they do think we’re going to get more students next year, but I think a lot of parents are going to be hesitant, thinking this school’s wild,” Santiago said. “Parents might think things of the school even though it’s not true. I think it will affect Rider in the long run.”
However, Patel believes the educational opportunity offered at Rider will be enough to pull in more freshmen.
“I don’t think freshmen will be worried because Rider has good academic fields,” she said. “Freshmen will be coming in as much as past years.”
The numbers at a recent Oct. 21 Open House show that Patel’s prediction is closer to the truth, according to Associate Director of Undergraduate Admission Marianne Kollar.
“We had a record attendance at the Oct. 21 event,” she said. “We had a total of 545 students attending and a total of 1,397 people. This was record attendance, exceeding the previous years.”
In 2006, 496 students attended for a total of 1,271, Kollar said.
“We did not have any parents or students ask about the recent incidents on campus,” she added.
Most parents and students at the Open House were there despite negative news coverage. Many parents seemed to believe that what has happened wouldn’t affect their children because they taught their children more responsibility.
“It happens,” said Lisa Gennello, mother of Alyssa Gennello, a high school senior from Hamilton Township. “It puts a black cloud over things, but it didn’t deter us from coming here or her from wanting to come here.”
Alyssa Gennello said that the events happening so close together were more of a coincidence than anything else.
“It’s not affecting my decision,” she said. “It could happen anywhere.”
Whatever student opinions may be, one thing is certain: Both campuses have felt the effects of the past two months.
“It’s just a matter of getting through this difficult time,” Thomas-Cottingham said. “Rider is a community that’s not very different from the larger community. We have horrible things happen and wonderful things happen.”