It’s been a year since the death of one of our own, Carolina Perez.
Perez was killed in a collision last year on Feb. 22, when former VCU student, Varinder “Vick” Chahal drunkenly ran a red light and struck the vehicle Perez was in, causing it to spin into a nearby building.
In response to the tragedy, VCU met with student body representatives to establish “Carolina’s Pledge,” a student-driven denouncement of drunken driving, altered the code of student conduct to allow the university to be more responsive to similar incidents and worked with the VCU Police Department and Richmond City Police to periodically set up sobriety checkpoints on and near campus.
The university has also done a great deal to prevent similar tragedies. In 2011, VCU was selected by the U.S. Department of Education to receive a grant to bolster campus alcohol and drug abuse prevention programs. Recently, VCU also received a $9,000 grant through the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to combat underage drinking on-campus. VCU PD has hosted a number of student outreach programs and information events for student organizations, particularly fraternities and sororities.
In striving to educate students about the danger of alcohol consumption, in conjunction with redoubling enforcement efforts that apprehend those that drink and drive, the administration shows their commitment to students, the campus and the general public.
As an open campus and an integrated part of Richmond, the university has a unique responsibility that most other college campuses don’t have. VCU is responsible not just for ourselves, but the neighborhoods adjacent to ourselves, neighborhoods full of both students and Richmond residents. The actions we take have a direct effect upon them.
We must remain vigilant of the dangers around us. Although the Wellness Center reported in fall 2012 that 74 percent of students have 0-4 drinks when they go out and 70 percent of students drink alcohol fewer than five days a month, there’s still a good 30-26 percent of the student body that we need to be cognizant of. As we learned with Perez’s death, it only takes one person’s mistake to end a life and affect us all.
At a university with just over 30,000 students, it’s sometimes difficult to remember that while we’re all individuals, we’re also all members of the same community. We are, whether we realize or not, closer than we think. I didn’t personally know Carolina, but we lived in the same building our freshman year. We weren’t friends, but we were here, together, living and interacting in the same environment.
Generally speaking and looking from a wider scope, we weren’t all that different. We shared friends and acquaintances. We shared anxieties. We shared aspirations. All of us do. The arbitrary lines of division that segregate us, be they departmental, classification, gender, age, ideology, religion, are just that: arbitrary.
Once we stop thinking about ourselves as separate entities occupying the same space and begin to think of ourselves as we truly are — a living, vibrant, diverse and interconnected community of individuals — we can make the change necessary to be a more deliberate and thoughtful society. When we start to think of each other as allies as opposed to adversaries, we’ll be more likely to stop someone, some stranger, from making a stupid mistake that could have tragic consequences, like drinking and driving.
You don’t have to know someone to save someone. You don’t have to be noticed to be a difference. It’s the small acts and daily deeds of ordinary folks.
That’s how change is made.