By TESSA CATE
Two UMW students on their relationship with late friend, Scott Houk (“You’ve never seen two guys more platonically in love”)… the Fredericksburg community’s turnout on Sunday, Sept. 25 at the Out of the Darkness suicide prevention walk (“I think it’s also important to note the sheer number of people who were at the walk today”)… and the accessability of UMW’s student counseling services.
Tessa Cate: Tell me about your walk today – what was it for?
Emily Lowrie: The walk is called the Out of the Darkness walk and it was put on by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The goal of the walk was to raise money for not only suicide prevention but suicide awareness, so talking about mental health and reducing the mental health stigma, as well as preparing counselors and staff to be able to go onto college campuses and talk about the Foundation and all that they can do for suicide survivors and those with mental health issues.
Tessa Cate: Who were you and your friends walking for?
Noah King: We were walking for Scott Houk who was a friend of ours who passed away two years ago.
Tessa Cate: What kind of a guy was he?
Noah King: He was a really good guy. He was a great friend and a really, really great person. Very neon-oriented.
Emily Lowrie: He would stop at nothing to make you smile.
Tessa Cate: What kind of a relationship did you guys have with him?
Noah King: I met him my freshman year and I guess I became close friends with him really quickly, so we ended up becoming roommates together sophomore year. So, obviously I spent a lot of time with him.
Emily Lowrie: They were like brothers. You’ve never seen two guys more platonically in love. Scott had such a love for Noah. He told me about when he was going to ask Noah to be his roommate and he was so nervous that Noah would say no or that he had found someone cooler to live with. Scott said, “I wanted to be roommates with Noah so badly, cause when I looked at him I knew that he was everything I wanted to be in a person.” So when Noah said yes, it was probably the best day of Scott’s life.
Noah King: You make it sound like a wedding proposal…
Emily Lowrie: It kind of was! That’s how he described it to me. And, I guess to me, Scott was probably the most genuine person I have ever met. You could tell when you met him that he wasn’t trying to be anyone else.
Noah King: It’s a really admirable quality.
Emily Lowrie: I had such a magnetism to him and his friendship because he was what I wanted to be, you know? So unapolagetically who he was.
Tessa Cate: Emily, I know you’ve been focusing a lot of your energy on mental health issues on campus, recently. How do you think our campus can improve the care they provide?
Emily Lowrie: After Scott died, it felt like there was a very wide sense of disorganization which is probably the last thing you need after a tragedy happens. Things slipped through the cracks. We were talked to the night that he died but never again after that. There was no follow up, no making sure that we were reintegrating into normal life. I believe that since there wasn’t that, we didn’t, and just kind of stuck out the rest of the semester in our little bubble. Almost half of the friends didn’t come back for that reason, because coming back in the fall seemed like something we were all largely unprepared to do because we didn’t know what it would look like. We didn’t know what UMW meant without Scott. Grieving friends can only help grieving friends so much, and when there’s no organization, follow up or counseling outreach, that just doesn’t happen.
Tessa Cate: If students reach out to the counseling services on campus, do you think that they’re helpful?
Noah King: I think it’s hard because I think they’re understaffed. I do think that they’re really capable, competent people and it’s really helpful to go, though. The first one can be kind of tedious because they’re trying to get to know you and trying to understand your circumstances, but if you can manage to get in there even a second time, it becomes increasingly more beneficial. But the problem is that everyone wants someone to talk to and there are only so many counselors. Last semester, the time between sessions was two weeks and it was kind of discouraging. It made me not want to go back.
Emily Lowrie: Talking about events like this is hard in the first place, so getting motivation to go is one thing and getting motivation to go in two weeks is another.
Tessa Cate: Do you think a lot of people on campus utilize the services provided?
Emily Lowrie: Oh yeah. Last year, I started going pretty regularly and I got pretty close with the receptionist. She was telling me how last year, they were seeing dozens of new people per week, so much that the counselors were being stretched thin. I think that’s because of all the tragedies that we’ve unfortunately experienced. In that two week span when Scott died, there were two deaths, not just one.
Tessa Cate: Did any other groups from UMW participate in the Out of the Darkness walk?
Emily Lowrie: Psi Upsilon did.
Noah King: I think it’s also important to note the sheer number of people who were at the walk today, because Fredericksburg is a pretty small town and there were easily over one thousand people there. Obviously a lot of them were friends of friends, but one person can affect an entire small community of people. It was kind of sad and heartwarming at the same time to see so many people there because you know each of them is there for support.
Emily Lowrie: But also for the single human.
Tessa Cate: Is this walk something you guys will do again?
Emily Lowrie: I talked to one of our other friends, Bobby, who did it with us and he wants to do it every year.
Noah King: Yeah, I would do it again.
Emily Lowrie: It’s our last year here and we wanted to try and make it a priority, so no matter where we all are, we’ll always come back to Fredericksburg and do this walk. I think it’s important for us.
Noah King: It’s important for us to remember.
Emily Lowrie: And come together in a positive way. In a way that raises money for people who are struggling or have lost people like we have.