Killings in Newark Challenge Delaware State “Family”

While law enforcement officials continue their investigations in the killing of three college students, the Delaware State University community is trying to cope with the loss of the victims as students return to the campus this week.

Carlos Holmes, director of news services for Delaware State, said the university “will do whatever we need to do to tend to the students.”

A remembrance service has been organized by the Student Government Association for Aug. 28, the first day students return to campus for the new school year. “We are in part having this remembrance as an outlet for students to help them bring closure to this,” said Holmes. Holmes said the Aug. 28 service — which has been referred to as a “memorial” — is now to be called a remembrance, as the intent is to honor the students.

Students  Dashon Harvey, 20; Iofemi Hightower, 20; and Terrance Aeriel, 18 were killed Aug. 4 while hanging out in an elementary school playground. Aeriel’s sister, Natasha, 19, survived the attack. To date, six people — two teenagers and four men — have been arrested in connection with the killings. 

Nikki Chapple, president of the Student Government Association, said the main purpose of the service is to have an event where students who were not able to attend the funerals of the victims can say their “official goodbyes.” The SGA and administration provided buses for 80 students to attend those services.

Chapple said the Delaware State University band, of which Natasha Aeriel was a member, will perform an opening selection and tribute at the service. Bishop Bruce V. Parham of Oasis of Refreshing Ministries in Wilmington, Del., is to give an inspirational message. On behalf of the student body, the SGA is planning a presentation to the victims’ families, who will be attending the service.

The university has contracted with outside counseling agencies to be available on the day of the service to supplement its own counseling office, which has four certified counselors.

“Stop the Violence Campaign”

Chapple said that in order to uplift the student body, the first week of classes, Aug. 28 through Sept. 1, will become the “Stop the Violence Campaign 2007.” It will include a neo-soul concert featuring Floetry on Aug. 30 and a comedy show.

Harvey, who was a part of the SGA royal court as “Mr. Junior,” will still be the face of the junior class.

“He will remain our Mr. Junior. There will not be a replacement,” she said.

Holmes said the victims’ good reputations and their youth might have a significant impact on students.

“Young people just think they’re immortal and this is a real brick upside the head, especially when something like this happened to someone that they know,” said Holmes.

Though many students have most likely been dealing with the deaths in their own ways at home, the service is an opportunity for them to come together and console each other. Students and family members will have a chance to speak, and the service will be a chance for those who did not know the victims to learn more about them.

Hightower had been in the process of applying to the school and was planning to attend in the fall, so students outside of her Newark hometown might not be familiar with her. But that does not mean she was not part of the family, Holmes said.

“She would’ve been of us. She is one of us. We’ve embraced her memory,” he said. Students at the university have also already begun responding to the tragedy in their own ways. The Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Psi Epsilon Chapter has headed up a relief fund effort to help offset the medical and funeral costs for the families of the shooting victims.

Wright, keeper of records for the fraternity, spearheaded the effort. He had gotten to know Harvey at a retreat for the Student Government Association over the summer and was shocked to hear of Harvey’s death. He brought the idea of the relief fund to his fraternity brothers, who quickly responded.

“We know how it gets sometimes, with financial situations. It’s a time of need. It’s unfortunate and we extend our hand,” he said.

The relief fund effort is headed by Waverly DeBraux, the fraternity’s keeper of finance and a senior at Delaware State.

“I just wanted to give back and show the families that the students were loved at DSU,” he said.

Bringing the campus together

The goal is to raise $5,000 over the next two months. DeBraux said approximately $2,500 has been raised so far. The fraternity plans to start reaching out to local businesses in the Dover area, as well as to other chapters of their fraternity in the region.

DeBraux said that although the event was tragic, everything happens for a reason and he thinks it will have a positive impact on the Delaware State campus.

“It might bring our campus closer together. For the past three years, it’s been kind of a divided campus,” he said.

DeBraux said tensions between administrators and students regarding dorm rooms and class issues over the past few years have caused problems.

“Students were trying to get answers. People weren’t getting the correct answers they were looking for,” he said.

But DeBraux said he hopes this year will be better after the tragedy.

“It’s unfortunate that this had to happen to them. Everything happens for a reason. Maybe the reason was just to bring the campus back together,” he said.

The university is also raising money for a scholarship fund for undergraduate students from New Jersey in honor of the victims.

“We value all of our students. We thought it would be a nice way to remember them,” said Holmes.

Though the university community is gearing up to deal with the short-term impact of the tragedy with the service and fundraising, there are also long-term consequences to take into consideration.

Delaware State Sociology Professor Yaw Ackah said there might be social changes because the victims were Black and some of the alleged killers are Latino.

“It may destroy the trust between the Black community and the Spanish community. That is one thing I fear and I hope it’s not going to lead to that,” he said.

David Schonfeld, director of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement, said it might take months for students to come forward and ask for help dealing with the deaths and with how it has changed their view of the world.

“When tragedy occurs that we never thought would occur, it challenges some of our assumptions about how safe we think we are in our communities. Those assumptions are what allow us to get up in the morning and go about our day. When those are violated, it makes us feel kind of vulnerable,” he said.

Schonfeld, who helps schools nationwide deal with the death of students and faculty, said the Newark slayings might make Delaware State students think about other tragic events in their lives, and that can lead to difficulty concentrating, problems sleeping and increased risk-taking with drugs and alcohol.

He said it was important for the university to acknowledge the tragedy and give students the opportunity to get help.

“I hope the school will create an environment where students can access support services. The school has to normalize help-seeking,” he said.

Schonfeld added that it was important for school administrators to reach out to the specific organizations with which the victims were involved to make sure those most likely to have known them are coping well.

– Shauntel Lowe – Black College Wire

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