Campus tragedy inspires fund for awareness

By Kay Nguyen

The sudden suicide of sophomore Corey Jackson last fall served as a catalyst for awareness among the campus community and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.

Many didn’t know how to respond to the shocking news of his suicide.  Despite the pain of this very personal tragedy, close friends Jake Hendricks and Matt Krajenke, both 21, saw a story that went untold and decided to take action.

Two weeks after Jackson’s death, Hendricks and Krajenke started a Facebook group called The Corey Jackson Memorial Fund to raise money for Jackson’s family to help cover funeral costs; then later, to promote awareness of the problem of LGBT youth suicide.

“We want people to (realize) that suicide is a big deal,” Hendricks said. “We don’t want this to get swept under the rug.”

Over the past seven months, Hendricks and Krajenke have approached OU students and friends and family of Jackson.

“Response has been limited, but a lot of Corey’s close friends and family are aware of it.  They said that if I want to take it further that they would do everything they possibly could to help,” Krajenke said.

Hendricks and Krajenke would also like to get the fund involved around campus with activities at OU.  Alexa Van Vliet, OU junior psychology major and President of OU’s Gay Straight Alliance, a group which raised funds for Jackson’s family after his death, has discussed plans for cooperative fundraisers with the GSA and the school’s Gender and Sexuality Center to take place in coming months.

“Facebook is not really a way to make this known,” Hendricks said. “We need a bigger picture, we need something to catch peoples’ attention.”   He and Krajenke want to expand the Corey Jackson Memorial Fund to better serve the community and to reach more people with their message.

Hendricks says he would like to have the fund raise money for LGBT resource centers and establish a hotline that would assist LGBT youth.

“Basically, we want to help people who think they’ve hit rock bottom,”  Hendricks said. “We want them to know their worth and value.”

At the moment the group is only represented through Facebook, but Krajenke and Hendricks want to expand their Web reach as well. The only barrier, according to Hendricks, is obtaining the necessary funding to do so.

“I want (the fund) to be advertised, but we just don’t have the means yet to do that,” he said.  “We want to create a Web site, and we’re currently trying to find people who specialize in Web design.  It’s all a matter of the money to get that started.”

James Bialk, OU’s Gender and Sexuality Center’s student coordinator for summer, described LGBT suicides as a problem that is severely under-represented.

According to Bialk, OU does a lot more for gay and straight students in need of counseling and assistance. He also suggested that the university could do more to promote the services provided by the Graham Health Center, like counseling and STD tests, and the support offered by the GSC.

Shane Viars, a 24-year-old history major, expressed disappointment following Jackson’s death.

“They (the university) could have done more to set up a larger prevention effort,” Viars said.

He recalled the e-mail President Gary Russi sent to students and staff at OU the day after Jackson’s death.

“It just said, ‘If you need help, we’re here, or if you know anybody who does, contact Graham Health Center,’ but there wasn’t any number or warning signs to look for,” he said.

Viars said the response was disorganized and misinformed.

Viars hopes that resources similar to the Corey Jackson Memorial Fund will keep spreading the word about a problem that is growing on a national level.

“Anything that can draw attention to the issue, that can truly help create awareness is good — it’s necessary if it can create an impact more than just a superficial gesture.”

For more information about The Corey Jackson Memorial Fund, visit its Facebook page.

Students seeking counseling can visit the Graham Health Center on campus or call (248)-370-2341.