Silence hung over Pepperdine’s campus following the deaths of four seniors, Niamh Rolston, Peyton Stewart, Asha Weir and Deslyn Williams on Oct. 17. At community events in the days following the tragedy, including The Well on Oct. 18, and a prayer service Oct. 19, crying could be heard from within the quiet crowd.
Since the girls’ deaths, campus groups, including the Student Government Association, the Counseling Center, Panhellenic, RISE and University administration have put on events to honor Niamh, Peyton, Asha and Deslyn and support the student body.
“Our community has been shattered,” said junior and Student Body President Michael Sugimoto. “There’s almost an emptiness I feel when walking around campus.”
Sugimoto said he took the lead in hosting a candlelight vigil in honor of the girls Oct. 19, at the Amphitheatre. He said he wanted to give the Pepperdine community a space to gather and grieve.
The most meaningful moment at the event was when students had the opportunity to write notes to the girls on red paper hearts and put the hearts, along with flowers, on A-frame signs, Sugimoto said.
SGA has since displayed the signs in front of the Freedom Wall along with bouquets of flowers. Sugimoto said until there is a permanent memorial, the area by the Freedom Wall is serving as a temporary one.
“It’s the combination of this year’s theme, light, and then the tragedy of their [the girls’] lights being put out but not forgotten is kind of the idea,” said Connie Horton, vice president for Student Affairs.
There were a little over 1,000 people in attendance at the vigil, including emergency responders who were on scene at the time of the crash Oct. 17, Sugimoto said.
“It was a super beautiful and unifying time,” Sugimoto said.
SGA is planning a charitable event to support Niamh, Peyton, Asha and Deslyn’s memorial fund and to give the community another opportunity to unite, Sugimoto said. More information about this event will be available in the coming weeks.
Throughout this loss, Sugimoto said SGA’s responsibility has been to speak on behalf of the students to the administration. SGA will also be present at the Nov. 6 Malibu City Council meeting to advocate for a safer Pacific Coast Highway, Sugimoto said.
Counselors attended the vigil to support the community, Pepperdine Counselor Sparkle Greenhaw said. She said the Counseling Center volunteered to be available at other campus-wide events, including the memorial service.
“We’ve just been honored to be able to be there in the midst of this horrific loss,” Greenhaw said.
This tragedy has affected the entire community, Greenhaw said. As the community continues to grieve Niamh, Peyton, Asha and Deslyn, Greenhaw said it’s important everyone — those close to the girls and those not — normalize feelings of sadness or distraction and recognize grief is non-linear.
The Counseling Center does not have plans for any special events, Greenhaw said. She said counselors will continue to provide individual and collective support to students, athletics, fraternities, sororities, classrooms and faculty.
Niamh, Peyton, Asha and Deslyn were all members of the Alpha Phi sorority. The fraternities and sororities on campus have come together to support each other and those most affected by the girls’ deaths, Fraternity & Sorority Coordinator Molleigh Pompilio said. The Sigma Chi fraternity has transformed their philanthropy event to support the girls’ memorial fund, Pompilio said.
Sigma Chi held a live auction and music event Oct. 26, in honor of the girls, Pompilio said. At the event, singers performed the girls’ favorite songs. The proceeds from the live auction went to the families.
Chapters have given gift cards to APhi for them to buy dinner, donated flowers to the sorority and written cards, Pompilio said.
“I’ve worked on numerous college campuses before I came to Pepperdine, and this is the most I’ve ever seen a community really rally around one another,” Pompilio said.
Panhellenic has not planned any events for the near future, Pompilio said. They plan to wait to see how the community is feeling before they organize anything.
RISE also does not have plans for future events, Director of RISE Stacey Lee said. Every other week RISE hosts Crafternoons in the Lighthouse, Lee said. The week of Niamh, Peyton, Asha and Deslyn’s deaths, Lee said RISE put on an additional Crafternoons event to give the community a chance to come together.
RISE will maintain their bi-weekly Crafternoon sessions and weekly yoga on Alumni Park Tuesdays and Wednesdays, Lee said.
“We want students to utilize our ongoing resources and events in a way that feels right for them,” Lee said.
Although Student Affairs has not planned any more events to honor Niamh, Peyton, Asha and Deslyn, Horton said she wants students to know the care they’ve received from the University will not stop.
“They [the memorials] are at that moment in time — they’re a time of reflection. They’re a time for community to gather,” Horton said. “And that’s not the end of the grief. That’s not the end of the shock. That’s not the end of the need for support.”
Housing and Residence Life’s RA’s and SLA’s have supported students through prayer and by cancelling some events while also hosting spaces for residents and student leaders to be together, Director of Residence Life Maura Page wrote in an Oct. 31 email to the Graphic.
Page wrote HRL will soon transition to larger, more broadly supportive responses for the year ahead. She said she encourages students to reach out to their RA’s, SLA’s or RD’s as they grieve.
“Invite someone into this journey with you,” Page wrote. “You are not alone, and grief impacts everyone differently on different timelines.”
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