Weep With Those Who Weep

April 27, 2007

Katie Moseley enjoyed what she did no matter what. Baylor University was the only place she wanted to attend after visiting the campus with her parents. Adam Todd phoned his mother regularly to say, "Guess what I learned this week?" Mark Hudson loved the state of Texas, Western movies and cigars, and his Sigma Nu fraternity brothers loved him.
The three young students, all of whom died in the final three months of the fall semester, had little in common except for their ties to Baylor. But that considerable bond linked their families to the University and provided comfort at a time of profound grief.
"They just reached out," says Frances Moseley, mother of freshman Katie, of Baylor's response to the tragedy of her daughter's death. Months after Katie lost her life in a traffic accident Oct. 29, her mother speaks with deep appreciation about the "speed, extent and consistency" of Baylor officials who contacted the family immediately when they learned what had happened. Baylor officials got in touch with the Moseleys only hours after friends on campus became concerned that she had not returned yet from her weekend at home, Frances Moseley says. "By that morning, they (Baylor officials) were calling. The police department from Baylor left a message on her phone."
Baylor's response, then and now, continues to make a difference to the family in its breadth and warmth - characteristics that people normally don't find at complex institutions like a university. "We were overwhelmed with cards and notes, and we still get e-mails," says Danny Moseley, Katie's father. The actions of Baylor's administrators, faculty and students gave them direction when their world stopped, he says. "Everyone was dumbfounded as to what to do. The students initiated a memorial and Byron (Weathersbee, interim chaplain) helped put it all together."
Moseley's legacy will continue at Baylor, thanks to efforts by fellow students. In March, Student Senate voted to allocate funds for the planting of a memorial tree in her honor outside her dorm window. 
Weathersbee notes that addressing grief and tragedy "is not an exact science. Most crises are so unique and so different."
But what enables the Baylor community to respond in a swift and unique fashion is the character of the organization reflected in the staff it hires, the organization of support groups and the implementation of an emergency notification protocol, which are designed specifically to respond to tragic events like a death of a student.
Once administrators have been notified, University Ministries contacts family members and offers assistance, such as planning a campus memorial service if one is desired.
Dub Oliver, vice president for Student Life, says Baylor's faith allows it to respond in a caring manner, as well as "knowing that we want to respond in compassion and love, and bring the peace of Jesus to families and students when they are hurting." Additionally, he says, the daily efforts toward strengthening ongoing relationships within the student and faculty equip Baylor to more effectively address tragic situations. "First and foremost, you have to be present with them," Oliver says. "When Katie Moseley died, our decision was to go to the residence hall and say to students, 'We want to be present for you and be with you.' In each situation, we want to respond in ways that will be helpful." 
Although the response of University administrators is not formulaic, the resources available make for a great system, Oliver adds. Additional support services for students include contact with faculty members, resident chaplains and campus counselors who can provide one-on-one support.
"We try to involve the professors and utilize the existing support structure," Weathersbee says. "The counseling center has provided all kinds of support, and probably has the most written materials available." 
Weathersbee says the University also employs a crisis team that includes executive staff and students as well as the director of the Baylor Parents League, Judy Maggard, and the director of Counseling Services, Jim Marsh.
"That crisis team meets as needed after an event," Weathersbee says.
Baylor staff members also look for connections that they can use to reach out to students both on- and off-campus, such as extracurricular organizations and local churches.
The Moseleys' home church in Livingston was able to provide care and support for friends in a very personal way, Weathersbee says.
"It was so neat to watch that church in East Texas minister to people here," he says. Some of Katie's friends at Baylor attended a memorial service in her hometown, and "the way that church ministered to and loved on those girls, it was incredible."
Lila Todd of Oklahoma City, mother of Adam Todd, who died Nov. 11 in his Waco apartment, says Weathersbee immediately suggested a memorial service at Baylor. "That was a great comfort to us. Dub also attended Adam's funeral in Oklahoma City," she says. "How does this man do all he does?" 
Todd also remembers that Adam's biology professor Rene Massengale "suggested ways we might remember Adam. She met with us when we went to get his belongings. Kim Kellison, his history professor, sent us his papers and tests."
The professors' thoughtfulness gave the Todds a renewed perspective of Baylor as well as let them get to know their son better through his classwork, Todd says.
Funeral services for sophomore Mark Hudson of Keller were held at Miller Chapel on Baylor's campus. Friends and family dubbed him the Aggressive Texan because of his fierce love for the state of Texas. He was known for wearing a cowboy hat and boots to classes. 
Todd says her son Adam, 21, was drawn to Baylor because of the sciences department. He was so enamored of it that he used a photograph from the science building as the wallpaper on his cell phone, she says. "He really enjoyed being in the lab. He loved experiments and keeping his lab journal." Adam's studies led him to change his major from biochemistry to biology. 
Frances Moseley says Baylor students and administrators made it clear to Katie, the youngest of eight children, that it was important to them that she come to Baylor, and it was important to them that they were right for Katie.
She and Katie examined several programs, including the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core and the pre-med program. "At every door, people encouraged her. She didn't pursue either of those programs, but Katie still felt like Baylor wanted her. She was sold and never applied anywhere else."
When the family arrived at Baylor for Katie's memorial, her friends had already packed up her belongings so the family would not have to do it, she recalls. "It was such a help."
Students spoke fondly of Moseley's ability to build community and fellowship among the students on her hall and in her dorm.
"What a comfort to us as parents to know that Katie made a difference in the short time she was there," says Frances Moseley. " Shared grief is always easier, and Baylor has certainly shared ours."
"I have never been embraced by a community and felt so at home," Lila Todd says. "I can't say enough good things about the professors and administrators at Baylor. They made us feel like we were a part of the Baylor community and that Adam was respected. They embrace their own, especially in times of crisis. They supported us and honored him."