Columbia community mourns student’s death

By Managing Editor

Jake McConnell, a sophomore cinema art + science major, died Oct. 29 in his dorm room at The Dwight, 642 S. Clark St.

McConnell, a 20-year-old native of suburban Crystal Lake, Illinois, came to the college to study film and creative writing. 

McConnell’s death was announced Oct. 29 in a collegewide email from President Kwang-Wu Kim and Vice President of Student Success Mark Kelly. 

“We are deeply saddened to share news today of the tragic, sudden death of one of our students,” the Oct. 29 email read. “We wish to extend, on behalf of the Columbia College Chicago community, our heartfelt condolences to his family and friends.”

A second email from Kelly announced that McConnell’s death was ruled a suicide. 

“As we mourn a valued member of our community, what is most important is that we support each other,” Kelly said in the email. “We know that many of you already support each other, so never be afraid to speak up if you or someone you know needs help. We’re all in this together.”

Taylor Avrett, a sophomore cinema art + science major, was friends with McConnell and said she worked with him on several film and photography projects. 

“Jake was like the smartest person in the world,” Avrett said. “He could talk about anything, and he was so creative and talented and skilled. He was such a good person that could be genuine and real with anyone, and it didn’t really matter who you were. I always liked that about him.”

Jessalyn Doss, another friend of McConnell’s and a fellow sophomore cinema art + science major, said she met McConnell in a class and that the two bonded over films and games they both liked.

“Jake was kind of unearthly,” Doss said. “He was very different than everything around him, but he was very aware of his surroundings. He was a really friendly guy and willing to talk to anybody.”

Avrett said she and McConnell would sometimes wander around the city taking photos, and she could easily snap pictures of him because he was such a character.

Aside from being a popular model among his friends, Avrett noted McConnell’s love for making art, painting and writing. 

“He had all these ideas,” Avrett said. “He wanted to make art and change people through his art or connect with them.”   

Doss also remembered McConnell’s friendliness and passion for his art, adding that she considered him a very talented artist and that he always brought his notebook with him to draw or write.

“He was really always smiling,” Doss said. “He lit up the room. He liked dark things, but he was very bright himself.”

McConnell wrote about his various artistic pursuits on Columbia’s Talent Pool: “Jake is constantly keeping himself busy with many projects and loves to work with other people and collaborate. He is always looking for new ways to challenge and use his creativity and imagination. Jake is a firm believer in handwork and spends many sleepless nights planning a film, editing some writing or working on a painting. He is constantly writing down ideas or thoughts into his sketchbook, which he keeps at his side.”

Counseling Services extended office hours  from Oct. 29–Nov. 1 from 9 a.m.–9 p.m. Wednesday–Friday and from 10 a.m.–2 p.m. on Saturday following the Oct. 29 announcement of McConnell’s death to allow grieving students to talk to professionals about their feelings regarding the loss of a friend and classmate. 

Jennifer Strobel, coordinator of Counseling Services, said the office would reevaluate the need for extended hours in future weeks and consider prolonging the extended hours.

“With any death within the Columbia community, it’s certainly important for any student to reach out and to get the support that they need,” Strobel said. “There’s no right way to grieve and to have feelings about this, so [we’re] just allowing students to have whatever reaction they have and providing a safe space for them to feel whatever it is that they’re going to feel and to feel supported throughout that.” 

Counseling Services, located in the Residence Center, 731 S. Plymouth Court, offers students 10 free individual counseling sessions every academic year. 

The counseling sessions start in the fall and run through the summer semester.

Group therapy sessions at Counseling Services are free and unlimited, and Strobel said students can join the open groups whenever they feel a need to, whether or not they do so consistently.

Each weekday, Counseling Services offers a different type of group session for students, all of which begin at noon. Monday sessions deal with recognizing and understanding emotions and learning how to manage those emotions in positive ways.

Tuesdays offer “Social Success” sessions, which teach students how to manage social anxiety and further develop their social skills. On Wednesdays, students can go to learn about navigating healthy relationships.

Thursday sessions offer “Body Image and Yoga” sessions to help students overcome insecurities regarding body image. Friday sessions address happiness, success and ways in which students can achieve those goals. 

“We certainly have room for more students,” Strobel said. “It can sometimes be difficult because people think, ‘If I come to group therapy, I have to divulge all my deepest, darkest secrets,’ but it’s pretty skills-based. You’re learning coping skills, and sometimes it’s nice just to know that you’re not alone.”