The last few days have been very difficult for the UMW community. It’s been a turbulent semester, but the news late last week that one of our students had been murdered in an event that remains tragic and largely unexplained has rocked our worlds.
I didn’t know Grace Mann well, but I knew of her from many people who I respect and trust, students, faculty, and staff. I knew of her activism, I knew of her passionate defenses of others, I knew of her energy and enthusiasm, and I knew that I was glad that she had been appointed to serve on the President’s Task Force on Sexual Assault. I knew that Grace, an American Studies major, had, even as a junior, already been involved at a high level in independent studies and presentations at scholarly conferences. I knew that she had a reputation for engaging, challenging, and inspiring those who taught her. I knew that I was looking forward to having her in my US Women’s History course in the fall (especially because I was going to have to bring my “A game” to keep up with her).
My heart aches for her parents and her family, for her fellow activists, for her friends, for her teachers, for her communities in Fredericksburg, Northern Virginia, and beyond. I cried with so, so many of them today as we attended her funeral at Temple Rodef Shalom, and the grave-side burial at King David Memorial Gardens. I won’t try to summarize the funeral (which can be seen here by clicking on the On-Demand Viewer on that page) beyond noting that the speakers–Cedric Rucker, Leah Cox, her roommates and best friends, and her amazing parents–depicted a life of light, passion, energy, deep friendship, inspiration, activism, and love–deep, giving, encompassing love–that defies simple categorization but included many, many hugs. The sadness at her death and the inspiration of her life battled within me all day and I suspect within the many others around me.
It’s painful to imagine what we have all lost, what the world has lost, from her life being abruptly shortened in this way. Given what Grace had already accomplished, the good she had already done, the people she had already inspired, we are poorer today to not have her among us. Yet the incredible woman her parents brought up will continue to inspire all who knew her, and as long as her story continues to be told, she will inspire others as well.
Her parents have requested that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to RCASA, the Rappahannock Council Against Sexual Assault. Having watched RCASA provide essential support as far back as my own undergraduate days at Mary Washington in the early-1990s, I know it is a great organization doing incredibly important work and donations to it are a fitting tribute to much of Grace’s work on and off campus. There will also be a memorial fund established at UMW in her honor.
There were many hugs today as we mourned our loss and celebrated Grace’s life.