Building Audrey’s Corner

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By Prof. Joanne Kabak
Faculty Advisor

On the morning of May 1, 2018, I hunkered down at my kitchen table with a stack of folders filled with my students’ work. Classes were over and I was set to efficiently and thoughtfully calculate grades. I shut down my desktop and closed my laptop to eliminate the distraction of email.

And then a text came in. It was from the editor-in-chief of Spectrum. She wrote how sad she was about what happened to Audrey.

What happened to Audrey? All I knew at that point was that her work was waiting for my review in one of those folders. Her last article was in the current issue of Spectrum. Her messages to me and her editor were still in my inbox.

Once I learned that Audrey had passed away so unexpectedly that morning on campus, I knew what I wanted to do: to speak about her at the memorial service in the chapel that afternoon and to remember her in Spectrum now and going forward.

I knew the what, but not yet the how.

For the first step, the words came easily, as Audrey’s distinctive qualities were so fresh in my mind. There was her presence in the classroom in her seat at the back right, her face lit up by her smile, her curls and the turquoise tops she favored. And there was her work. You knew what articles she really liked writing – testing out new flavors of ice creams — and which ones not so much, like tracking down sources for a technology topic. Yet, whatever assignment she got, she pursued it doggedly and joyfully.

The next step – the way for Spectrum to remember her — came a couple of days later. I learned for the first time that Audrey had been bullied in school when she was younger. What’s more, she spoke openly about the pain of that experience and how she worked through it to become the positive, engaged person she was in college.

The editors and I read the article about her published a few years ago in the Greenwich Time, and saw the video interview showing her sitting cross-legged on a couch outdoors, speaking about what for some is unspeakable – being a kid who is pushed into your locker by other kids, just because. We knew what we had to do next.

We established the annual Audrey Niblo Award for Excellence in Reporting and Writing. Spectrum’s editors decided that the way to honor Audrey, a staff writer on the paper, was to remember her and to help others by using the voice of student media to write about what is bullying, what does it feel like, why do people do it to each other, and how can you stop it. Further, Spectrum made the commitment to write about the other types of challenges that students face, such as stress, anxiety, mental health issues, and negative self-esteem.

But just as Audrey did not let bullying stop her, Spectrum does not intend to stop at the problems either. Its goal is to write just as much about support, positive actions, stress relief, friendship.

Spectrum began its work in the fall 2018 on these issues and continues to publish related content. This year’s team of contributors decided for the spring semester to call the material inspired by her “Audrey’s Corner.”

Why tell you about this in an editorial? Because Spectrum needs you too. We want you to read the articles, to pick up the print edition distributed throughout the campus and to scroll through the website.  Further, Spectrum needs you to contribute ideas. What do you experience? What do you feel needs to be addressed and communicated about the issues that concern students? What are positive ways you or those you know overcome challenges? What is the research finding out about bullying and its consequences?

When I first spoke about Audrey, I knew her and her concerns only through the role of being her teacher in the news writing class and her advisor on Spectrum. For sure, working with someone on their writing brings you into deeper level of knowledge. Even in the objective, balanced process of news writing, the efforts and the words reveal a lot about a person. But I didn’t know her beyond those parameters.

Since that day on May 1, I’ve learned more. I found out that Audrey passed away from a heart condition. She was deeply loved by her parents, three siblings, and her extended family. She built a new family at Sacred Heart through the bonds she formed with her sisters in Theta Phi Alpha. Her love of her dog, who sat quietly and sadly in the front row at her funeral, was beyond description.

Learning about a person of character like Audrey evolves. Just a few days ago, as I sat with the team of students who’ve committed to be contributors to the Audrey Award project this year, I learned from one of them something I didn’t know before: One of Audrey’s dreams was to participate in buildOn.org, an international organization dedicated to supporting young people through its programs in the U.S. and abroad.

That’s what the passage of time and ongoing communication can do. They reveal new information, meaningful messages, and a way to bring others in who can say “yes, I understand that. It happens to me too and those I know. I want to help.” It is gratifying that this year’s project includes two freshmen – reminding us that goal of this program continues well past the graduation dates of those who knew Audrey personally.

To use a cliché – apologies to my student writers to whom I tell never to use a cliché – it takes a village. In this case, the village includes the Spectrum editors who work tirelessly to put out a weekly newspaper in print and online 22 times a year. It includes the students across majors who’ve responded to the call to be part of the team that creates content. And it includes faculty and staff in the School of Communication and throughout the university, such as Prof. Amanda Moras in the sociology department, and Mary Murphy, Executive Director for University Advancement.

Especially, Audrey’s family has been there for us every step of the way, sharing with us their memories of Audrey and their support for our efforts.

If you would like to read any of the previous articles published by Spectrum since September 2018, let us know. We can send you links. If you would like to contribute to our fundraising efforts, we have a crowd fund option until Dec. 31. This is the link: : https://weareshu.sacredheart.edu/project/17129. Our fundraising is important because Spectrum has committed to recognizing the work of the participants in the Audrey Award program through a grant, as well as a certificate.

Most of all, think about the issues in your own life and those of others. Read Spectrum’s work. Contribute your ideas to us. This is my email so I can route your ideas to the best channels for publication: kabakj@sacredheart.edu.

When Audrey spoke out through the Greenwich Time, she said, “Being bullied, that’s a fight you can’t win on your own. You need to talk to somebody. Teacher, parent, friend — someone.”

Spectrum’s response to that quote? Here we are. Through the reach of print and in the voice of students, we are talking now and into the future. We want to help others flourish, inspired by Audrey and by the path she set out to follow.

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