Northeastern students organize walk for suicide prevention


Charlie Wolfson

More than 75 students will participate in the first Northeastern suicide prevention walk Saturday morning to raise awareness of mental illness and suicide while fostering a community around those struggling with mental health issues.

The event, called the “Out of the Darkness Campus Walk,” will begin at 10 a.m. in Krentzman Quad. The walk raises money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), a nonprofit that facilitates hundreds of similar walks nationwide. Behind the SMILE, a Northeastern student group that aims to break negative stigma around mental illness, is organizing the walk.

“I’ve participated in several AFSP walks before, and they’ve always been moving and powerful events,” said event chairperson Isabel Irizarry, a third-year psychology major. “We think that there’s not enough conversation about mental illness [at Northeastern], and it affects so many of us and our peers, but we don’t have a space to discuss it. We want to highlight that this issue is something that matters to our students.”

Irizarry, who is also a Behind the SMILE member, said the student group raised more than their $5,000 goal. The goal was originally set at $3,000, but was increased after donations quickly exceeded that amount. However, Irizarry said the group’s goals are not exclusively focused on fundraising amounts.

“It’s a success that we are having the walk,” she said. “That’s something we can’t discount. I want to see as many people as possible coming together and showing support. It’s not really about the numbers. It’s a symbolic meeting, being the first suicide prevention walk at Northeastern.”  

In hosting the event, Northeastern will join many college campuses around the country that have held Out of the Darkness Walks. Emerson College hosted a walk last week, and Boston University and the University of Massachusetts Amherst will each host one later in April.

For third-year media and screen studies studies major Alex Kokenis, who will be participating in the walk, issues surrounding mental illness are deeply personal.

“All through high school, I struggled with [mental illness] but never vocalized it,” Kokenis said. “I just figured, ‘Well, in college, it’ll get better.’ I got to college, and I had a rough freshman year.”

Kokenis said she and her freshman-year roommate, who was a survivor of a suicide attempt, often talked to each other and became more open about their struggles.

“There’s a lot going on in the world right now, but I focus on this particular issue because it’s so personal to me,” Kokenis said. “I find that talking about it, and not hiding away in your room like I did in high school, makes it easier to deal with.”

Behind The SMILE co-president Laney Chace, a junior human services major, praised AFSP’s model of pushing suicide prevention in addition to suicide intervention.

“That’s the kind of work that we don’t think about as much,” Chace said. “But working on prevention in the first place is so important.”

Students have until noon Friday to sign up and can do so through the AFSP website.

“I think that whatever the numbers are, it’s going to be a powerful message to send to the university, our friends and our peers,” Irizarry said. “We really want people to hear about it, and to know that this school is not a place where you have to stay silent about suicide and mental illness.”