Speaking in hushed tones under the bleak late afternoon sun, a small group in Monroe Park quietly passed around candles and wrote messages on a large portrait of Chelsea Wagner.
Many attendees were dressed in Wagner’s favorite colors, purple and turquoise. A junior in the English department, Wagner committed suicide this past weekend.
After a short prayer from pastor Vernon Gordon, those in attendance shared stories of Wagner and the joy she brought to their lives. Her best friend since childhood, Jean Tatum, said Wagner was a funny, intelligent presence in her life.
“She brought laughter to the room and made people smile even when they didn’t want to,” Tatum said. “The way she thought about things was different, and you could tell that it was a higher level of thinking. She will be missed very much.”
Black VCU Speaks held the vigil in Monroe Park to honor Wagner and shed light on the importance of mental health for members of the black community. Attalah Shabazz, a student organizer for Black VCU Speaks, said mental illness often goes untreated due to social stigma.
“Our mental illness is not taken seriously and often times people in the black community don’t have the resources to go find help if they are dealing with anything,” Shabazz said.
We have the idea of the strong black woman and we don’t talk about the things that we’re dealing with and keep trucking and we don’t really talk about our issues.”
Amid the muffled sound of crying Wagner’s father, Mark, spoke about the importance of speaking out when signs of depression and anxiety present themselves and implored those in attendance to reach out to loved ones and help them in times of crisis.
“We talk about high blood pressure being the silent killer. The thing about high blood pressure is that you can go to the doctor and get a pill to get it fixed,” Mark Wagner said. “It’s something that a pill or sleeping all day doesn’t fix. What helps with depression is that people have to talk and have to be aware of each other.”
The Division of Student Affairs notified the VCU community on Dec. 4 of two students passing away.
In an email to students and faculty, interim vice provost for student affairs Charles Klink informed the community that Wagner had passed away.
Klink’s email also stated Alyssa Nguyen, a first-year student in the College of Humanities and Sciences working toward a degree in math, had passed away in a traffic accident last month.
“Our condolences go out to Chelsea’s and Alyssa’s families and friends. We also hope that you will keep these families and their friends in your thoughts during the upcoming holiday break, along with the other members of our university community whom we have lost this year,” Klink’s email read.
Last month, a similar email was sent to students notifying them of the deaths of first-year dentistry student Benjamin Sykes and senior engineering student Christopher Ducic, who both suffered fatal falls over Halloween weekend in unrelated accidents.
The November email also informed students of the death of first-year transfer student Lisa Rubi who was killed in an automobile accident.
Suicide is the leading cause of death among college students, ahead of alcohol related deaths each year, according to an American Public Health Association study from 2011. VCU students may use University Counseling Services or call 1-800-784-2433 for immediate help.
VCU Counseling Services on Monroe Park Campus
Monday-Friday: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., (804) 828-6200
907 Floyd Ave., University Student Commons, Room 238
VCU Counseling Services on MCV Campus
Monday: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Wednesday: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Tuesday-Friday: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., (804) 828-3964
1008 East Clay St., Room B-011
For an emergency after hours, please call VCU Police dispatch at (804) 828-1234 and ask to speak to a therapist.
Multimedia Editor, Margaret Carmel
Margaret is a senior broadcast journalism major with minors in international social justice and Middle Eastern studies and a certificate in global education. Her dream job is to make documentaries overseas, specifically in the Middle East. You can usually find Margaret at the movies or looking for more books to read. // Twitter | Facebook | LinkedIn | Portfolio