Campus Ministries Offer Support After University of Idaho Homicides
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News story Annemarie Frohnhoefer
CORRECTION: The story has been updated to reflect that UI will be organizing the vigil. Earlier we reported incorrectly who was hosting the vigil. We regret the mistake.
In the early morning hours of Monday, Nov. 14, the University of Idaho’s Office of the Dean of Students contacted various campus ministries in an effort to provide counseling and other services to over 10,000 UI students, faculty and staff in the wake of a homicide investigation.
As the hours unfold since the killing of four UI students at an off-campus apartment, and without an identified suspect or motive, many area residents and students are experiencing a sense of panic. Classes were canceled university-wide on Monday, but on Tuesday many students were returning home early for the upcoming Thanksgiving break. Many professors are opting to accommodate students’ responses to the tragedy and are not requiring attendance. Other campus entities are preparing to hold space and serve those who need support.
The Rev. Karla Neumann Smiley, who has worked as a Lutheran Campus Minister at UI for 22 years, has experienced other campus tragedies but says, “there is extra weight to this one.”
She said a “a sense of uncertainty” marks this tragedy, making it difficult for members of the campus community to fully process their emotions surrounding the killings.
Ryan Cook, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints’ stake president for Moscow, Idaho, explained there are approximately 100 students at the university who actively participate with the LDS Institute of Religion, but many other students are connected with the church.
The Institute was one of the campus ministries the Dean of Students contacted shortly after the crime was reported. Church officials were ready to designate the building as a safe space for the campus community to talk, engage with one another and receive counseling and services. No members of the LDS community were directly impacted by the events, but the space is there for anyone who needs comfort or conversation, no matter when they are on campus.
Heather Meyer, the operations director for St. Augustine Catholic Center on the UI campus hasn’t seen many students seek guidance at the center. She does say that students, “are scared, frankly” and that “our hard work hasn’t begun.”
Staff of the Catholic Center said they too intend to walk with students and their friends through grief.
Vigils, prayer services and other memorials help the grieving process. Currently, with so many students away from campus, the mourning process is disrupted. Campus ministries are looking to fill that void when students return.
UI is planning a vigil after Thanksgiving when students are returning from their break. St. Augustine Catholic Center and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints’ Institute of Religion on the UI campus will be two ministries participating in that observance.
Smiley said she finds her purpose is to support the Dean of Students and keep The Center (formerly known as the Campus Christian Center) open as a space for students, faculty and staff, even though right now it feels like “suspended space.”
The suspect has yet to be found. The details of the suspected homicides have yet to be determined. Limited information is being released. Her colleague set up a temporary vigil station with tea lights outside of The Center. The uncertainty is palpable but staying present is a form of solace, much like the listening ear that Smiley continues to provide.
While the campus might feel deserted, there are some students who cannot leave. Some students are local to the Moscow region. Faculty members also live in the university town.
Smiley had to break off the interview when a student knocked on her door. Later, a faculty member sought her out because they needed to talk. When Smiley was able to return to the interview she explained that international students are on campus throughout the break. Not only are they far from home, but many are not followers of Judeo-Christian religions.
Organizations like Moscow Interfaith Association, work with The Center to provide spiritual support for all students of all faiths or no faith. Though The Center is supported by seven mainline Protestant denominations, Smiley says there is “no need to proselytize” and The Center is available to everyone.
Though services and support are provided to victims of tragedies and to those impacted by events, it is rarer for those who commit crime to seek support services. Cook explained that the emotional and psychological support and counseling available to students and faculty at the LDS Institute are not designed for confession. The Institute of Religion supports the college and the community by coordinating with the Dean of Students to ensure a safe space.
Meyer echoed his statement, saying that although St. Augustine Catholic Center’s ministers are presented with different types of crises and are capable of providing counseling and direction, the Catholic Center shares the university’s and the police department’s interests when it comes to the welfare of the community.
U of I classes cancelled Nov. 14 to honor student victims. pic.twitter.com/wiuOmST6d1— University of Idaho (@uidaho) November 14, 2022
Annemarie Frohnhoefer is a writer, editor and ghostwriter based in Spokane. Their work has appeared in High Desert Journal, The Inlander, The Spokesman-Review and other publications across the U.S. They are a member of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church and a baptized Roman Catholic.