Monthly Archives: October 2013

A Map of Love and Loss

Thank you Mission & State for posting the following important letter.

A Map of Love and Loss

A.J.’s parents were vocal about the cause of his death and active in educating students about the risk of drug and alcohol use. They have since been in close contact with many students and programs at UCSB, speaking about their loss at events in Isla Vista and talking to students about risk-taking.

Posted By Christina Knueven On Jun 19, 2013 @ 5:28 pm In Campus Confidential:
UC Santa Barbara has embraced the rising online culture, creating its own Facebook page for students to join and follow and inundating my “umail” (university mail) with notifications about what is going on in and around the school. Though it’s overwhelming at times, I appreciate the easy access to student life, campus activities and major events—the instant connection to information.

We know more than we need to, but we aren’t notified of everything. It’s rare to find out that a student has died, and if we do, it’s through our own social networks, word of mouth or newspapers, but rarely from the school.

On the afternoon of Nov. 9, 2012, we received an email from UCSB asking students to help the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department identify the male body found on the beach that morning. The description matched that of a friend, David, but of course, I never thought it would actually be him. My friend later told me that he called the Sheriff’s Department number in the email, telling the police that David hadn’t been seen since the night before and that their description of the body had him worried. My friend didn’t really think it would be David. How could it be—he was too young to die. He was just like us.

That evening, the Sheriff’s Department posted an update on their website: “This evening, the male body found on the beach in the 6500 block of Del Playa Drive this morning was identified as 21-year-old David Propp, a UCSB student, living in Isla Vista. Notification to his family has been made. The investigation that commenced this morning has led investigators to believe that Propp was a victim of a fall.”

David’s friends and family organized a candlelight vigil at the Music Bowl, an open mic event for sharing remembrances in the Lotte Lehman Concert Hall and a memorial service at the UCSB Recreation Center. David’s death was covered in UCSB newspapers The Daily Nexus and The Bottom Line, and was generally more widely acknowledged than the deaths that were to come in a rough 2012-2013 school year because his friends and family took the initiative to publicly mark his passing.  There was, however, no official campus-wide administrative notification of the tragedy.

Nor was there a few weeks later when, on Thanksgiving Day, Melissa Portillo died at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital after falling from an apartment balcony in Isla Vista. I heard about this from my aunt, who lives more than 200 miles away, when she called me, worried that I might have known Melissa, too. I didn’t know Melissa, but I may have known what her friends were feeling.

UCSB students William Calabrese and Cameron Howe died at the beginning of the 2012 academic fall quarter. The following December, UCSB sophomore Alec “A.J.” Torchon died from mixing alcohol and a drug suspected to be a painkiller. During the recent winter quarter, UCSB student Vincent Young died, and there’s not much known about his death.

Shortly after A.J.’s death, Chancellor Henry Yang sent an email to all students and faculty acknowledging the losses and underscoring UCSB’s commitment to providing help and support for students who need it. I remember feeling upset that all of the deaths were lumped together into one big warning to UCSB students to watch out for one another.

A.J.’s parents were vocal about the cause of his death and active in educating students about the risk of drug and alcohol use. They have since been in close contact with many students and programs at UCSB, speaking about their loss at events in Isla Vista and talking to students about risk-taking.

I appreciate now that the school handles these situations according to the wishes and needs of family and friends, and that the chancellor’s email was doing what I wanted more of: acknowledging the deaths. But I do sometimes wish that, if the family were open about it, the school administration would somehow go a little further when one of our peers dies. I can’t help but wish that as a community, we could expand the feeling of togetherness in the midst of a tragedy.

Right after David died, I felt incapable of making decisions. I felt like nothing in my body wanted to work. I allowed one of my good friends to make decisions for me, following her everywhere, draping myself over the passenger seat of her car, pressing the tips of my fingers into the cushions of her couch, pulling the soft sound of Cat Steven’s voice into my ears from her car stereo. I needed some sort of structure, somewhere to be, something to do and loved ones to mourn with.

After about a week, I felt an increasing pressure to get back to daily life, and so I did, but I didn’t feel ready for it—something was incomplete. The people closest to the students who passed away will create their own network of love and support, as my friends and I did for one another after David died. But I think there is a special type of connection when a community, no matter how large or small, comes together to share grief, because no matter how personally we may be feeling it, losing a single member of this community is a tragedy.

After David’s death, hundreds of candles lit up the Music Bowl, and there were hundreds of embraces in the UCSB Recreation Center.  I remember imagining a map of California that would glow wherever love was felt. And I knew that Isla Vista and UCSB were on fire on that map, growing brighter and brighter with each minute as we shared stories with one another, as we loved David and loved each other. People who didn’t even know him would feel the love that he inspired in us and then they would love, too, and it kept going like this. I imagined us on this map as one big, bright, glowing spot. And then I imagined what it would look like if this love expanded to the entire UCSB community, if everyone knew about his death, glowing brighter still until the entire school was a beacon of bright, glowing love.

In memory of:

William Dominic Calabrese

Cameron James Howe

David Daniel Propp

Melissa Jamilett Portillo

Alec Jacob “A.J.” Torchon

Vincent Young

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Footnote:  One more student has died since the printing of this article (posted by SafeLaunch)

Giselle Esme Ayala1995-2013