As a Rutgers alumna, I was deeply saddened to learn about the death of Caitlyn Kovacs. While Caitlyn is too young for me to have ever attended university with her, I’m sure we shared many of the same experiences at Rutgers.
I imagine Caitlyn to have been, like most sophomores, excited for her second year. She was probably relieved to already understand the Rutgers bus schedules and able to find all of her classes on the large, five-campus institution.
Maybe she was planning to study abroad as I was my sophomore year; perhaps she was becoming involved in a new campus organization.
I wonder if she was stressing out over a difficult philosophy or literature professor as she tried meeting all of the core requirements; maybe she engaged in a study group with her friends for these difficult courses.
She could have been in her first real relationship. I didn’t know Caitlyn, but I knew myself at age 19 -- 19-year-olds can’t be too different from each other, can they?
Who is to blame for the death of a young, bright student? Can we label the people who surrounded her? Do we point fingers at our victims? Can we argue that it’s the fault of the homeowners?
All of these people were kids. They were students who were alive with the excitement of being college students, empowered with the idea that nothing bad can happen because why would anything bad happen? You’re away from home; you’re young, you’re free, you’re beautiful and life is supposed to be wonderful.
No rational, kindhearted person can logically blame anyone. I certainly don’t. I do, however, have reservations regarding how we paint the college image in young people's minds.
Here’s how college is touted to many: a place of wild parties, overdrinking, rampant sex, sleepless nights and endless fun. Here’s what college should be: a place of personal and academic challenges, learning, enlightenment, personal growth, friendship and endless fun.
How many students walk onto campus and know that it’s okay to not party endlessly? That it’s okay to not go to a football game, and it’s okay to not get drunk? It’s okay to not be a part of that culture, and if you do partake, it’s okay to stop before you lose control.
Moreover, how many college students know that it’s okay to call for help? How many know the difference between someone being drunk and someone being really drunk? What’s the line between drunkenness and poisoning?
To my knowledge, Rutgers does not have a specific section in its drug and alcohol policy that exempts those who call for help from disciplinary action. This is a problem. Beyond students knowing their own limits, they need to be aware that in the case that something does happen, help is available.
Students need to know that help -- life -- is more valued than prosecution for underage drinking. Universities need to make this message clear: We care more about the livelihood of our students than prosecuting them for underage drinking.
How many of us have interpreted this message from a university? How many children have gotten it from their parents?
At one of my first Rutgers parties, a student went into diabetic shock. She lied on the floor, surrounded by her sibling and friends. Her sibling made it clear that she was in danger. The homeowners called the ambulance immediately and told everyone to leave.
We filed out. The student went to the hospital, and she was fine due to the knowledge and quick-thinking of her loved ones, who had the confidence to call for help. It was a confidence that came only from being aware and being reassured that helpfulness is superior to any punishment for wrongdoing.
It’s a mantra that must be drilled into young people's minds and one that must always come from those in power. Rutgers needs to make this clear. Fraternities need to make this message clear. Parents need to communicate this to their children, who still live at home.
If you’re a drinker, call, inform, love and ask for help. If you’re not, that’s okay, too. You’re still a college student.
We need to educate our students and our children, rather than fill with them with fear of prosecution and punishment. Education is the only way to move forward. It’s also the only way to prevent tragedies like Caitlyn’s from happening again.
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