- BU’s chapter of Actively Moving Forward is a student-led support group for those grieving a death
- Members perform outreach and complete community service projects in memory of those who died
- One in three college students experienced the death of someone close to them within the last year
Allison Zuckerberg met with a counselor immediately after her best friend died by suicide during her freshman year. It was a temporary solution, she says; afterwards she stopped talking about the loss. Then when she went to BU’s annual activities fair Splash at the start of junior year, she discovered the BU chapter of Actively Moving Forward (AMF), a support group for, and run by, college students coping with the loss or illness of a loved one.
The BU AMF chapter, which is not affiliated with any religion, was started in 2013, and holds biweekly support meetings and members perform outreach and community service on campus.
“Our motto is ‘Grief sucks but we get it,’” says Zuckerberg (CAS’18), now president of AMF. “I tell people that we are a group who have all gone through it and are in different stages of grief. You can see how other people have coped, or if you’re further along in the grieving process, you can give help to other people.”
While professional services, such as licensed counseling, are indispensable, Zuckerberg says, students can also benefit from talking to peers about their loss and developing ways for coping. They may be surprised to learn that they are not alone: approximately one in three college students have experienced the death of someone close to them within the last year, according to the national AMF organization.
BU group advisor Margaret Ross, medical director of the Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders and former medical director of Behavioral Health at Student Health Services, says that grieving students often feel different, especially during times like Move-in, Family and Friends Weekend, or other events, if they have lost a parent and see that their roommate has two parents present. “If the student is actively grieving, they may not feel like participating in events or socializing with people they feel can’t understand what they are going through,” Ross says. “So having a chance to spend time with others who understand this can be very valuable.”
AMF meetings are held every other Monday night and are confidential and open-ended. Each meeting begins with someone sharing a personal story of loss and the ways they are dealing with it. And every meeting has a theme, such as how to deal with the stresses of college life, navigating relationships, and how to handle the holidays while grieving.
“Spending time with other students going through similar experiences, or people who’ve gone through it, feels comfortable and validating,” Ross says. “The AMF events may have something to do with the experience of loss, but mostly they just offer an opportunity for students to spend time with others who can relate. Sometimes, being with people who have gotten through the grief gives us hope that there is a path forward, that we can get through it too. We all tend to seek out people who make us comfortable, and this is what AMF is for.”
Last year, AMF successfully helped to create a formal bereavement policy for BU students, the first of its kind. Students are now granted a leave of up to five weekdays to grieve the death of an immediate family member.
“We were really passionate about this,” says AMF past president Micayla Freehan (Sargent’17), who worked with fellow members Emily Fitzgerald (ENG’16) and Avion Cummings (CGS’14, Sargent’16) to collect and study samples of other schools’ bereavement policies. They then drafted a proposal and presented it to Kenneth Elmore (SED’87), associate provost and dean of students. “We knew it was difficult to change policies at BU, but he was supportive from the start,” Freehan says. “We worked with a committee of professors and administrators to craft the policy. The whole process took about a year and a half.”
Freehan, who lost her father during junior year of high school, says AMF helps students find a community for grieving. “With all the other stresses in college, it’s really nice to find a common ground, especially when a tragedy like losing a loved one happens,” she says. “No matter how long it’s been, there are triggers, days you are going to be upset. These are people who understand what you’re going through, they are someone to talk to, who won’t look at you like you have two heads, or say, ‘It’s been seven years, get over it.’ It’s important to have that support when you need it.”
Today, Monday, November 13, is World Kindness Day and AMF is partnering with healthy snack food company KIND to set up large chalkboards on Marsh Plaza, where from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. members of the BU community can post their pledges to be kind. There will be free flowers, KIND bars, “grief sucks” lollipops, and information about Actively Moving Forward. Find more information here.
Visit the Actively Moving Forward Facebook page.