David Sobel loved tennis, politics and traveling.
Kelly Augustyniak wanted to be a nurse so her career could focus on helping others.
Courtney Tirri taught her friends how to love openly and forgive easily.
David’s, Kelly’s and Courtney’s stories were among dozens displayed Wednesday on The Oval, fastened with zip ties to three of the 1,100 backpacks placed on the grass for most of the day. The backpacks were part of “Send Silence Packing,” a national event which seeks to spread awareness about mental health by visually representing the number of college students who die by suicide each year.
“[Statistics] can be read as just a number, or they can be read as a person’s life, and that’s what we’re going to do: bring that statistic to a human level, and really show people that they’re more than just numbers,” said Andre Banerjee, a fourth-year in landscape architecture and president of Ohio State’s chapter of Active Minds.
Active Minds is a national organization focused on destigmatizing mental illness. The organization has brought “Send Silence Packing” to campuses around the country since 2008, including a stop at Ohio State in 2010.
The 1,100 backpacks were laid out in neat rows, covering nearly half of The Oval. Most of the backpacks closest to walking paths included pictures and stories of people who have died by suicide. Other backpacks, many of which were donated by families who lost a student to suicide, had encouraging messages written on them.
Active Minds, as well as other student groups like Buckeye Campaign Against Suicide and Peers Reaching Out, set up tables with resources and information on mental health. Counselors from the Office of Student LIfe’s Counseling and Consultation Services were also present throughout the day for those who needed support.
The reason Active Minds uses backpacks for the display, Banerjee said, is because it is something all college students can relate to.
“It is a tiny symbol of one part of somebody’s stage in their life that is kind of a universal consistency throughout campus,” he said.
Many people walking through The Oval stopped to read the stories. Some read one then moved on with their day while others stopped to read a couple. Dylan Ridge, a fourth-year in psychology, read a few. When he first saw the backpacks, he said he wasn’t sure what they were for. Once he started reading, he understood.
As Ridge, who carried a backpack of his own, walked toward Page Hall, he stopped near the edge of the display, turning around to look at the 1,100 faces and stories one last time.
“Intense,” Ridge said when asked to describe what he felt. “I don’t know if there’s a word strong enough.”
Elise Gallerno, a third-year in business and French, also used the word “intense” to describe the display. Gallerno had seen a “Send Silence Packing” display at another school on Instagram before she walked through The Oval Wednesday morning, but wondered what it felt like to experience first-hand what she called “a makeshift graveyard.”
“Someone can tell you that a high number of students are committing suicide, and you’re like, ‘That’s terrible,’ but then you see it,” she said. “You see these are kids. These are objects that my friends carry, that my brother’s carry. It could have been any one of them.”
“It achieves its goal because it brings up a lot of awareness,” she added. “It’s not a statistic anymore.”
Of the 1,100 backpacks, there was only one that was displayed somewhere other than The Oval’s grass. It was gray, with a green Pelotonia logo, and it rested on Active Minds’ table next to a box of tissues, papers with mental-health information and buttons, one of which said “1 in 4,” a reference to the fact one in four adults live with diagnosable mental illnesses.
On the backpack was the story of Zachary Franczek, an Ohio State senior who died by suicide Jan. 1.
Zach was passionate about the environment, and a sincere, dedicated friend, said his mother, Julie Franzcek, who visited The Oval Wednesday.
After Zach’s death, his parents said they heard about Active Minds and wanted to see if “Send Silence Packing” could come to Ohio State. They supported the organization’s mission, and in particular, they felt this event could impact more people than something like a speaker visiting campus.
“You can’t ignore it,” Vincent Franczek, Zach’s father, said while standing on The Oval amid the rows of backpacks.
“If it caused at least one person to open up, to a sibling or to a friend,” he said, “it would be worth it.”