Confronting Terrible Stories

“Remembering Maggie Wardle” was the theme of the Week 4 (Oct. 5) Community Reflection in Stetson Chapel. Featuring an annual speech by Ann V. and Donald R. Parfet Distinguished Professor of English Gail Griffin, the reflection remembered those in our community who face daily violence as well as the history of K’s own struggle to become a place free of violence.

Gail Griffin stands next to “Maggie’s Bench” next to Stetson Chapel

Gail Griffin by “Maggie’s Bench” next to Stetson Chapel.

Outside on the quad, purple and white fabric adorned trees on the Quad to commemorate National Intimate Partner Violence Awareness Month. More than 100 students, staff, and faculty with purple ribbons affixed to their lapels read fliers that listed the warning signs of abusive or potentially abusive relationships. The Reflection also served as a remembrance for the campus events of Friday, Oct. 18, 1999 when NeeNef Odah ’01 fatally shot his ex-girlfriend, Maggie Wardle ’02 and then himself. In 2010, Griffin published The Events of October: Murder-Suicide on a Small Campus, a book about the violence and its aftermath.

Andrea Johnson ’15 and Brittany Worthington ’14, co-leaders of POWER, the feminist student group on campus, introduced Griffin who said although this might be the last time she presents this lecture, it’s important to continue to talk about this difficult topic. “So much of education means confronting those terrible stories,” she said. She then recounted details of the circumstances leading to the murder-suicide from both Odah’s and Wardle’s perspectives. She unraveled the assumption that Odah was an imposing misogynist, but rather a mild young man who was “one of us.” She also described Wardle as a fun-loving athlete rather than a weak victim of abuse. “Women don’t get beaten because they are weak or stupid,” she said.

Chaplin Liz Candido ’00 invited the audience to encircle Wardle’s commemorative bench outside the chapel for a moment of silence. Wardle’s mother, step-father, and grandmother were all in attendance, and they encouraged students to remember Maggie by speaking about violence on campus.

Community Reflection is part of the Chapel Program at Kalamazoo College and offers a unique forum for discussion, worship, performance, and community expression each Friday at 10:50 AM in Stetson Chapel. The campus community and general public are invited. Reflection will not be held during Week 5 (Oct. 12) due to Fall Quarter break. But Week 6 (October 19) Reflection will be “Politics and Public Service: K-Plans and Career Paths,” which will feature a panel of K alumni working in the areas of politics or public service reflecting on how their K-Plan continues to inform their lives and careers.

[Story and photo by Elaine Ezekiel ’13]