‘The air feels heavy.’ How CMC is coping with recent student deaths

Students stand in Flamson Plaza at CMC after walking from Butler Plaza during a candlelight vigil Wednesday. (Talia Bernstein • The Student Life)

A week marked by two student deaths left the Claremont McKenna College community reeling, and students and administrators are searching for the best way to support those who are grieving. 

A lot of us didn’t know the students … [but] we’re such a tight-knit community … a lot of my friends have been checking up on each other making sure that everyone’s alright,” said Grace Wang CM ’21, ASCMC vice president of student activities. “I really appreciate the fact that everyone is giving each other hugs and making sure that everyone feels supported.”

Jeremy Peterson, who entered CMC with the class of 2018, was found dead in his dorm room in Phillips Hall Feb. 19. He was 22 and from Princeton, New Jersey. His cause of death has not been determined.

Eric Cramer also entered CMC with the class of 2018 and was found dead in his dorm room in Beckett Hall a week later, on Feb. 26. He was also 22 and from San Diego. He died by suicide, according to the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office.

Addressing the more than 500 people who packed Butler Plaza outside CMC’s Bauer Center Wednesday night for the vigil honoring the lives of Peterson and Cramer, CMC President Hiram Chodosh spoke fondly about both students.

Chodosh told the crowd that some community members might not know how to feel in response to the deaths.

“What’s important to know is that we feel, that we know how to feel, and to allow ourselves the fullest range of emotion,” he said.

Chodosh’s words rang true for students, who expressed difficulty carrying on as usual.

“The first loss was difficult, but getting that second email … was excruciating, and things got really heavy,” Chandlyr Denaro CM ’21 said via message. “I’ve noticed I’ve gotten a bit distracted, or found it hard to focus in classes, and the campus vibe and air has felt kind of somber.”

At the Athenaeum on Wednesday, Vice President for Student Affairs Sharon Basso reiterated this sentiment, stating that “the air feels heavy” on CMC’s campus.

Others said they were grateful for the support of fellow students.

The losses of our own bring shock and grief,” ASCMC President Maya Love said via message, thanking student governments across the consortium for their support. “At the same time, though, I am proud of my colleagues and board as I have seen such compassion and [an outpouring] of support.”

In an email sent to faculty and staff Tuesday, the evening of Cramer’s death, Dean of the Faculty Peter Uvin said Wednesday classes would not be canceled, but attendance was not mandatory.

Uvin said in his email that CMC debated canceling classes, but decided against it, because “everyone deals with stress and trauma in different ways, and some may seek the normalcy of a regular class or work schedule while others may wish to take time to process their emotions.”

Wang said ASCMC asked CMC’s administration to cancel classes, but was not successful.

“ASCMC believes that we should take a pause and reflect and process everything,” Wang said. “The school believes that people have different ways to cope with grief.”

Wang said only three or four students attended her class Wednesday. While her own professors were accommodating, Wang said many of her friends took midterms and had papers due that day.

“The email yesterday gave a lot of discretion to the professors,” Wang said.

For students across the 5Cs, Monsour Counseling and Psychological Services is located in the Tranquada Student Services Center, while an on-call therapist is reachable 24/7 for after-hours support at 909-621-8202. Staff and faculty can call the 24/7 Employee Assistance Program number at 800-234-5465.

This article was last updated March 3 at 3:32 p.m. to add information about support resources.

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