My four years at Rider saw the deaths of at least a dozen students and young alumni. Suicide, health problems and far, far too many car accidents robbed the campus community of students whose full potential was never fully realized. We even watched as The College of New Jersey grappled with its own nationally televised tragedy, and it did so with a grace and dignity appropriate to the circumstances.
The students we lost were leaders and role models, friends and siblings who gave everything they could to the Rider community and were active members in the student government, Residence Life, campus media organizations, the Greek community and countless other student-run organizations. They were individuals whose post-college lives were filled with promise and, even though they didn’t get memorial scholarships in their names, their deaths hit us hard.
For those of us whose college lives were touched by loss, we grieved together and we found strength in comforting one another and our fallen friends’ families. We remembered the good times and, while such a wound never heals completely, we eventually returned to our daily routines.
The difference was that, while we may have lost a friend and a member of our Rider family, we forged stronger friendships with those who understood our grief and felt our loss just as deeply. We accepted what happened and didn’t try to aggravate someone else’s suffering by seeking scapegoats. We mourned, we cried and we honored our lost friends as respectfully as possible.
And we learned that every tragedy has a lesson. For a while, though, it seemed as though the lesson we were all learning from last semester’s events is that it’s OK to point fingers and try to make innocent people shoulder the blame for a crime they did not commit. And, as adults, we should be able to own up to our mistakes and accept the consequences — regardless of how awful and severe those consequences may be.
But for all the students who stood behind Dean Anthony Campbell and Ada Badgley, we learned what it means to be a family. We reached out to students and alumni we would have never contacted otherwise. We learned how to listen to one another with respect, even when facing conflicting perspectives. We learned that what unified us — our unshakable belief that these two remarkable and caring administrators who left such a positive impact on countless students’ lives were the last people who deserved to be indicted in the death of a student — was much stronger than what divided us. And while it was a shame that it took such an appalling display of misappropriated blame to bring us all together, I desperately hope that the good that came out of it makes such a lesson worthwhile.
When the charges against Campbell and Badgley were dropped because “there wasn’t enough evidence to take the officials to trial,” I know I wasn’t the only one who was wondering what took so long to arrive at such an obvious conclusion. It was never their job to baby sit a bunch of 18-to 22-year-olds. It was our parents’ job to send us out into the world with the maturity, self-respect and foresight that would help us succeed in college.
For many of us, college life is our first taste of freedom and, like any new experience, we’re bound to make a few mistakes along the trial-and-error path that begins with freshman orientation and ends with the commencement ceremony’s pomp and circumstance.
But we arrive at college with the understanding that we’re adults who know how to take care of ourselves, because college isn’t an arrested state of development or an excuse to linger in childhood’s carefree nature for a few more years: It’s four more years of helping us learn how to make it in the real world. Because in the real world, you can’t turn around and blame the cops or government officials if you knowingly break the law and decide you can’t take the heat.
Nothing can ease the pain of loss, but dragging out the mourning period and trivializing a preventable death by turning it into the blame game isn’t going to make anything better. And that’s a lesson best learned quickly, before any more innocent parties can come under fire.
— Madeleine Johnson
Rider News Opinion Editor, 2005-2006