“Completed Suicide Risk Highest Within First Six Months After Incomplete Suicide” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Child mental health is becoming an area of ever-increasing concern and research, including within the area of child sexual abuse, depression, anxiety, suicidality, and bullying that lead to suicide.¬† Recently, within the past two months, I had opportunities to visit a large metropolitan hospital in Atlanta at which mental health care is provided on an inpatient and outpatient basis for people of all ages.¬† I primarily made observations in the children’s mental health unit in which children from ages 4-12 were hospitalized as inpatients.

Since making my observations, I have done much research in the area of medicine and counseling related to depression, anxiety, suicidality, and bullying that ultimately ends in the suicide of the victim.  I have also consulted with many professionals in these areas, including pediatricians, psychiatrists, psychologists, and licensed professional counselors.  Further, I have communicated with school teachers, school administrators, school mental health professionals, school system administrators, and religious about these issues.  This blog article will share some of what I discovered related to these critically important issues in mental health care.

At the hospital in Atlanta at which I made my observations regarding inpatient child mental healthcare, the most significant part about it that was very noticeable was that most of the children were boys.  On one particular day, there were 16 children housed in the unit, and 12 of them were boys, with the majority of the boys being African-American.  Of the girls present, the majority of them were Caucasian.  It was also my understanding that the majority of the boys were hospitalized due to suicidality (and/or other mental health concerns related to it, such as depression, anxiety, and/or sexual and/or physical abuse or neglect).

To me as an untrained observer, I found this to be very significant because my personal expectation was to observe there to be a greater number of girls than boys present in the unit.  Because there were significantly fewer girls than boys present in the unit over a period of several days, it became important to me to understand the reasons for it.  I got to thinking about several possibilities to explain this reality.

Perhaps girls are more open about their feelings and experiences, and/or a depressed or otherwise upset mood in girls may be more visible to others.¬† Perhaps boys are keeping their feelings too much to themselves due to the societal and cultural expectations for them to “be a man,” and thus, not to show their feelings.¬† Possibly, adults were unable to recognize signs of suicidality or depression in boys compared to girls.

Further, it may be possible that adults did not view boys’ depression or suicidality to be as serious as that of girls until a crisis point was reached.¬† Culturally, it is also significant that most of the children housed in the unit were African-American boys.¬† Specifically related to cultural or ethnic differences, I do not yet have particular potential explanations for this.¬† Additionally,¬†perhaps there are other general explanations and reasons that I have not thought of for there being significantly more boys in the unit than girls.

As I stated previously, since the time of my observations of the children’s mental health unit in the metro Atlanta hospital, I have researched several issues relating to child mental health, and I have consulted with many professionals in the field.¬† In a study completed by Cynthia R. Pfeffer (2001, p. 1057),¬†she stated that during prospective follow-up into adulthood of children at risk for suicide showed that a “history of sexual abuse (RR: 5.71, 95%; CI: 1.9-16.7) imparted the greatest risk” for it.¬†¬†Reading this was saddening and disheartening for me because it appears that most suicide attempters and commiters have internalized their pain and suffering, are taking it out on themselves, and appear not to be able to successfully cope.¬† They were hurt, have lost hope and trust, and are now hurting themselves, possibly in efforts to make the painful memories disappear.¬† For them, suicide seems to be the only answer for removing and escaping the emotional pain.

In a study by Stanley, Brown, Brent, Wells, Poling, Curry, Kennard, Wagner, Cwik, Klomek, Goldstein, Vitiello, Barnett, Daniel, and Hughes (2009, p. 1005), the researchers reported that individuals who attempted incomplete suicide are at the greatest risk for repeat attempts and/or actually committing suicide within the first six months following the incomplete attempt (as this study particularly relates to adolescents, aged 13-19 years old).  This is extremely important to understand because those who are untrained in this area do not understand the seriousness or severity of it, or are, perhaps, in denial that the situation is serious or severe.  Regarding children, I believe this particularly applies to those in education, including teachers, administrators, and other staff because they are not equipped with the knowledge and understanding about the manner in which to best support students who have been suicidal.

And sometimes, those adults in education who are bullies toward children truly have absolutely no understanding or compassion toward students who made an incomplete attempt at suicide because they simply do not seem to care.  In fact, those type of adults may even do more damage to the child through their insensitivity and failure to understand the situation by being even more punitive or retaliatory toward the student because the issue is one with which they, themselves, are unable to successfully cope.  It remains easier for such adult bullies of students in education to bully, blame, and revictimize the student victim.

Also unhelpful are the student peer bullies with whom the suicide attempt survivor must cope.  Student peer bullies of the victim seem to bully the survivor even more because they are aware of the emotional vulnerability of the survivor, and they capitalize on that because it makes them feel good.  Therefore, in a school environment in which bullying goes unchecked, unresolved, and not corrected, suicide attempt survivors are at an even greater risk for a future successful suicide attempt because they experience bullying from adults and peers.

Additionally, O’Connor, Gaynes, Burda, Soh, and Whitlock (2012, p. 15) reported in their study that “psychotherapy¬†did not reduce the risk for suicide attempts in adolescents in contrast to adults.”¬†¬†They (O’Connor, Gaynes, Burda, Soh, and Whitlock, 2012, p. 11) further reported that “psychotherapy did not reduce suicide attempts in adolescents at 6 to 18 months” into a suicide prevention treatment program.¬† They (O’Connor, Gaynes, Burda, Soh, and Whitlock, 2012, p. 11) also stated that “psychotherapy had no beneficial effect on suicide ideation beyond usual care” in adolescents.¬† These findings are shocking, disturbing, and disheartening, particularly when there may be the extant societal belief that¬†counseling and psychotheraphy benefit individuals with emotional disturbances and/or¬†self-destructive ideations.¬† If psychotherapy is not beneficial to adolescents who have attempted suicide and/or who have suicidal ideation, what benefit is psychotherapy to children who have had similar experiences and/or beliefs?

A professional friend of mine who is a psychiatrist provided me with an article written by a women who is a sexual abuse survivor, and who was hospitalized on three occasions throughout her life due to depression and suicidality related to her traumatic experiences.¬† The article, “How ‘Person-Centered’ Care Helped Guide me Toward Recovery from Mental Illness,” by Ashley R. Clayton (2013), was extremely helpful to me in better-understanding what is going through someone’s mind when they are hospitalized for a mental health crisis.¬† The article was further assistive to me because, as a graduate student in counseling who is working on my second master’s degree, it was important for me to perceive and understand the great value of Person-Centered Therapy in counseling suicide and sexual abuse survivors.

Because so much hope and trust has been lost in survivors of sexual abuse and suicide, it is obviously critically important for others, including mental health professionals, to be as sensitive and supportive as possible of them.  The author shared that she experienced the greatest improvement through the person-centered approach and caring relationship that a particular nurse developed with her.  This is something important for me to remember and put into practice in my own counseling of trauma survivors.

Further regarding children’s mental health in relation to surviving trauma and suicide attempts, as well as those areas in relation to children’s school attendance, I spoke with two pediatricians regarding the issues.¬† Both pediatricians took the issues seriously, however, they did not desire to take responsibility for children who were suicidal because they stated they were not trained or highly-experienced in those areas.¬† Both pediatricians also desired for parents to work with the expectations of schools, even though such expectations, stresses, and pressures may be too overwhelming for some children.¬† Regarding the experience of child sexual abuse, both pediatricians believed that counseling was needed for child survivors, however they both believed that medication to manage the child survivors’ moods were necessary as long as they believed the child was “functioning.”

For me, the perspectives of both pediatricians – both of whom are Caucasian women with many years of experience in pediatrics – were discouraging in many areas.¬† First, both doctors appeared to be very quick in the desire to refer suicidal patients to other medical professionals.¬† While that has advantages and disadvantages, it places those at risk in the position of believing that their doctors are unable to properly care for or understand them.¬† Both also believed that child survivors of sexual abuse need not be medicated if they were “functioning.”¬† I believe that it is one thing to survive, and quite another thing to thrive.¬† Merely “functioning” is not fully living or thriving, to me.¬† And also, both pediatricians appeared to also be too quick to go along with schools’ expectations for students, including maintaining the same academic and/or disciplinary standards for students who are trauma survivors.¬† As an individual who is an experienced teacher, I know that students have different learning styles; placing everyone in the same category is detrimental to those who have suffered trauma.

Both a psychologist and a licensed professional counselor (LPC) with whom I consulted about difficult, damaging, challenging, and/or overly stressful and overwhelming school experiences of child trauma survivors both believed that people in education are or may be unable and/or unwilling to change in a manner that is more supportive, understanding, and compassionate toward them.  The psychologist believed there is not likely any school that would be able to meet the needs of a child who is a trauma survivor.  And, both the psychologist and the LPC believed that schools are part of the problem in not successfully supporting and understanding trauma survivors and their needs.  Those who are in education Рperhaps including school counselors and school psychologists Рmay be unequipped in schools at being able to fully or successfully support children who are trauma survivors; this can and does have devastating effects on such children.

Of all those in the medical and mental health fields, I believe those who are most fully trained and equipped to successfully both treat and understand trauma survivors Рin particular, those who have experienced sexual trauma, depression, anxiety, and suicide attempts Рare psychiatrists.  Psychiatrists are in the best position to provide urgent and necessary medical and mental health care to suicide attempters, including hospitalization, evaluations, medical care, and medications.

I assume that the psychiatrists are those who most often see patients who are suicide attempters; and they see them at their lowest points, emotionally.  Therefore, psychiatrists who truly have what is best for their patients in mind seem to help suicide attempters and trauma survivors become stabilized and recover as quickly as possible.  Psychiatrists are in a wonderful position with their patients to be supportive, understanding, and compassionate; and to inform and educate society, in general, about the medical issues and needs experienced by suicide attempters and other trauma survivors.

In communicating with several people who are education professionals regarding survivors of sexual trauma, suicide attempts, and bullying (both by peers and adults in school), I have largely encountered  biases against the survivors, as well as an incredible absence of sensitivity toward them.  Such refusals of understanding, sensitivity, and compassion toward survivors by the majority of education professionals with whom I communicated can possibly be attributed to a lack of or refusal toward being educated and informed about the needs of the survivors.  Such outright insensitivity by the education professionals Рthe majority of those who were insensitive toward survivors were administrators Рcould also be attributed to a denial about the seriousness or severity, or fear due to stigmas or the unknown, regarding the issues related to survivors.

In some situations of communicating with administrators, upper administrators, and school psychologists of schools and school systems related to student survivors of sexual trauma, anxiety, depression, suicide attempts, and bullying, I also encountered not only insensitivity and a lack of understanding toward the survivors, but also inconsistencies in their behaviors toward them.  In most school and/or school system administrative personnel and school psychologists with whom I communicated, I encountered adult bullying by them toward the child survivors that was sadistic.  In such education professionals, it appeared that their incredible harshness toward the survivors was something that they wanted to occur, regardless of the outcome or effects that may or may not have resulted in actual suicide.

In other situations in communicating with education professionals about such survivors, however, I encountered empathy, compassion, understanding, and sensitivity toward them.  Such supportive actions were those exhibited by other particular school system administrative personnel and/or educators and counselors.  Such desparities in the treatment of survivors by various school personnel reflects that education professionals must be on the same page in order to consistently understand and support, as well as be compassionate and sensitive toward survivors.  This appears to be direly and desperately needed in education in order that students who are trauma and suicide attempt survivors receive the greatest possible support and understanding in their educational environments.

Therefore, it was personally extremely shocking and disturbing to me in a life-changing manner that some of the very leaders of schools and school systems not only do not support said survivors, but are actually bullying and sadistic toward them.  In these situations, I believe it would take not less than a miracle to convince such individuals to even consider a different and more positive and understanding perspective toward said survivors.

In regard to particular religious leaders with whom I have communicated about issues related to survivors of child sexual abuse, anxiety, depression, suicide attempts, and bullying, I have Рthus far Рexperienced their compassion, kindness, and prayers toward survivors.  I have also learned, however, to carefully choose which religious to approach; not all religious are as understanding and supportive as others.  And, I am further aware that there are those religious who would take such information and use it against the victims and/or survivors in order to revictimize them.  Presently, however, that is not what I have experienced in my recent and present communications with particular religious about these issues related to survivors; and I am thankful for and relieved about that.

I believe that society has come a long way in supporting and understanding the experiences and needs of trauma survivors, including those who have experienced sexual abuse, depression, anxiety, trauma, bullying, and suicide attempts, however there is still much more progress to be made.  Those who best-recover from traumatic experiences are those who have positive, stable support in their lives.  Stressful and overwhelming situations are serious set-backs that only cause them to regress, and to continue not to hope or trust.

It is so critically important for sexual abuse survivors and suicide attempt survivors to have the consistent and unconditional support of those around them, including family members, community members, those who are in education, and others.  Without such support, compassion, and understanding Рand, in fact, if the survivor experiences the opposite of those Рhe or she could make a future suicide attempt that is successful.  Such tragedies are avoidable and preventable if everyone practiced more patient, respect, appreciation, and compassion toward each other, particularly trauma survivors who have attempted suicide.

References

Clayton, A.R. (2013).¬† “How ‘Person-Centered’ care helped guide me toward recovery from mental illness.”¬† Health Affairs, 32 (3), pp. 622-626.

O’Connor, E., Gaynes, B.N., Burda, B.U., Soh, C.,¬†& Whitlock, E.P. (2012).¬† “Screening for and treatment of suicide risk relevant to primary care.”¬† Annals of Internal Medicine, pp. 1-22; pp. W-1 – W-5.

Pfeffer, C.R. (2001).¬† “Diagnosis of childhood and adolescent suicidal behavior: Unmet needs for suicide prevention.”¬† Society of Biological Psychiatry, 49, pp. 1055-1061.

Stanley, B., Brown, G., Brent, D.A., Wells, K., Poling, K., Curry, J., Kennard, B.D., Wagner, A., Cwik, M.F., Klomek, A.B., Goldstein, T., Vitiello, B., Barnett, S., Daniel, S., & Hughes, J. (2009).¬† “Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for suicide prevention (CBT-SP): Treatment model feasibility, and acceptability.”¬† Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 48 (10), pp. 1005-1013.

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“People in Authority who don’t Listen aren’t Leaders” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

People in positions of authority who don’t listen to or consider others aren’t leaders.¬† It’s as simple as that.¬† It seems that there are so many more people in our world who don’t listen to or consider others than there are those who do.¬† What is extremely discouraging, disappointing, and disturbing is when an individual of common, everyday status approaches and/or comunicates with someone in authority about a serious issue or concern that can be changed or improved, and that person does not listen, does not care, and/or does not even consider what the other person has to say.¬† We, therefore, must be very thankful for those people who do listen – whether or not they are in positions of authority and whether or not they are in a position to change a situation for the better.¬† Those people seem to be getting fewer and fewer these days.

In my own experience and throughout my life, I have met, encountered, interacted with, and/or communicated with many people in positions of authority who, by their refusal to listen to, consider, and/or understand certain issues and concerns, are not true leaders.  Leaders are those people who take charge and lead all others in a positive direction of beneficial development. 

Sometimes, however, people in authority and in positions of leadership are unwilling and/or unable to listen to and consider the needs, issues, and concerns of others.  Therefore, in my definition, they are not true leaders because they are unable to be open to truly hearing, considering, analyzing, and understanding issues that may bring about positive change that may and can be good and beneficial for everyone.  People in positions of authority who are closed to others and who shut others out, by this definition, are not leaders.

It seems that there are sometimes too many people in our lives who are unwilling or unable to hear what we have to say.¬† Perhaps our information is too uncomfortable for them to hear, or they are threatened by it in some way, or they are unable to cope with it.¬† That is unfortunate for everyone because they are missing out on an opportunity to do something good for others.¬† They, therefore, don’t even realize that they have missed a chance to improve something, to help another, and to potentially assist many others.¬† They believe that they know the only right and correct way; they have closed themselves off from others, and believe they are protecting themselves from others.¬†

In my life and experience, I have met, interacted with, and communicated with several people who, through their own discomforts, feelings of being threatened in some way, inability to cope, and/or simple refusal to listen caused them to shut me out, turning away from me.¬† These people have included certain authority figures in higher education, churches, schools, businesses, family and friends, and even former intimate partners.¬† When people are unable or unwilling to listen to information they don’t want to hear and/or with which they are unable to cope, they may shut you out, turn you away, deny you, discredit you, and/or even demonize you, simply for being direct, honest, truthful, and assertive.

It is, therefore, extremely important to be thankful and grateful for those who ethically and morally consider and listen to others, particularly when their information has, not only the potential to influence and assist that person in a positive way, but the potential to benefit many others, as well.¬† There are some individuals out there who can and do listen.¬† There are some folks who take positive and beneficial actions to help and protect others when they are informed about it.¬† There are certain people – within the same and other groups that I mentioned above – who do act to help and benefit others, who seriously consider and analyze others’ actions and information, and who do not demonize and condemn the individuals who are providing truthful and honest information, even though it may be information that they don’t want to hear.

It is these people for whom we must be grateful.  For these people, we must recognize and be aware of their personal and internal gifts and talents of truly being leaders.  True leaders are strong in the face of persecution, even though others may have condemned and demonized them simply for stating or doing something with which others disagree or with which they are unable to cope.  We must recognize, therefore, that the majority may not always be right or correct, ethical or moral, honest or truthful.  What we must recognize is that even one or a few people can be correct over the majority, that perhaps even one or a few people who stand up for what is right even in the face of abuse, injustice, and persecution may have only the best interests of everyone in mind, not just that for themselves. 

If you are a leader of a group, organization, business, or institution, how do you behave and what do you say to others in order to include, consider, and hear the concerns and issues of others?  How do you examine, analyze, and research the information that has been given to you?  Do you simply believe what others have to say about another person, simply because they may be in a potentially powerful position of authority over the other person?  People in positions of authority are not always right and correct. 

I identify Pope Benedict XVI as a good example of a person in authority who does not always do what is right and correct, in hiding and covering up the abuses of clergy throughout the world.  I identify college or university presidents who do not listen to students who have concerns or issues about crimes committed against them by other students, or other college officials who will not consider other serious issues brought to their attention. 

I identify school principals who bully teachers and students because they do not wish to draw attention to particular issues.¬† I identify clergy who shut others out simply because they are unwilling or unable to cope with what others have to say.¬† I identify governmental and political figures who won’t consider a different and perhaps better or more fair way of doing things in consideration of others.¬† I even identify family members or relatives who are unable to hear or consider truthful and honest information, particularly when such information may potentially be to their benefit.¬†

It is, therefore, very important to cultivate and maintain relationships with others who do consider, hear, listen to, and understand you.¬† When you are completely honest and truthful with yourself, others who are also honest and truthful will recognize and appreciate your truth.¬† It’s like the old sayings go, “Birds of a feather flock together,” and “they are like peas in a pod.”¬† People who are similar understand, appreciate, and respect each other.¬† People who stand up for what is right and correct find, understand, and appreciate each other, as well.¬†

Thank you to all those who are able to hear, understand, listen to, and consider the truth, and what is right and good, even if it’s something that you don’t want to hear.¬† For those of you who are unable to do so, I pray for you that your eyes, ears, and mind will be open to what others have to say.

Comments on Child Sexual Abuse; and Book Review of “Fred the Fox Shouts ‘NO!'” By Tatiana Matthews (Commentary and Review By Michele Babcock-Nice)

“Fred the Fox Shouts ‘NO!'” By Tatiana Y. Kisil Matthews

Child sexual abuse is sadly and tragically much too prevalent and common in our society.  Infants, toddlers, children, youth, and teens Рminors of all ages and backgrounds Рmay experience sexual abuse and/or sexual assault before they turn 18. 

In statistics provided by the website titled, “Parents for Megan’s Law and The Crime Victim’s Center,” we know that one in three girls and one in six boys are sexually abused or assaulted while they are minors; the average age of those children experiencing sexual abuse or assault is between 9 to 10 years old; and less than 10% of sexual abuse or assault involving children is reported to police.

Additionally, statistics from the website state that child sexual abuse or assault usually occurs in a long-term interation between the offender and the child, with four years being the average length of time of the interaction.  Also, only about 1% of child sexual abuse and assault cases are considered to be false reports.  So, that means that 99% of the reports are true and genuine!

Readers must also be aware that much of this information is based on reported child sexual abuse and assault cases.  Therefore, child sexual abuse and assault is likely much more common and occurs more often than the statistics show since so many cases go unreported. 

In a conversation that I had with a metro Atlanta county special victims unit police investigator many years ago about child sexual abuse, he stated to me that offenders can be anyone Рyes, anyone!  He shared with me that the professions of some of those whom he arrested included police officers, clergy, scout leaders, teachers, marines, and others. 

In a conversation that I had with a pediatrician, also many years ago in the same metro Atlanta county in Georgia, she shared with me that child sexual abuse and assault in day care centers and preschools is common!  If it is so common, why is there not more being done to educate the public about it and to eliminate it from occurring?

From my own research on the issue, it appears that the younger the victim or survivor is, the more vulnerable they are, and the more difficult it is to gain evidence against and prosecute the offender.

Knowing this information, understanding the statistics, realizing that offenders can be anyone, and that child sexual abuse and assault are common in day cares and preschools, as well as perpetrated by those who are known to the child, we, as a society, must do more. 

We must do more to educate and protect our children, and be sure that our children are safe where ever they are and in whatever they’re doing.¬† We must also¬†do whatever we can to eliminate the stigma that often surrounds victims and survivors of sex crimes, and instead, place responsibility and seek justice for these crimes rightly on the offenders.

One way of educating toddlers and children about the privacy of their bodies, their right and need to say, “No” to others who exploit or who attempt to exploit them, and the necessity of reporting the situation to trusted adult(s) is by teaching them about acceptable and unacceptable touch (by anyone) and how to react should they experience unacceptable touch.

Tatiana Matthews’ book, Fred the Fox Shouts “NO!” is one such excellent example of a book by which parents of children – or other trusted adults – can teach children through the books’ character, Fred the Fox, about their bodily privacy, their private parts, what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable touch, as well as¬†instruct them – and have them practice – yelling, “NO!” to the offender.¬† Children must also be taught to¬†get away from the offender¬†if possible, and to inform a trusted adult about the situation.¬†

Mrs. Matthews also presents through her book with Fred’s character that children must be taught not to keep the secrets of the offender.¬† It is good for children to learn not to keep secrets, especially since doing so may be designed by the offender to protect the perpetrator¬†and harm the child.¬†

Mrs. Matthew’s further shares in her book through Fred that simply because someone may be older or bigger than a child, does not mean they have the right to say or do whatever they want to the child.¬† Those who are most vulnerable must be the most protected and kept the most safe.

As a licensed professional counselor who works with adolescents and adults, Mrs. Matthews has 15 years of experience in providing therapy to victims and survivors of sexual abuse and assault.¬† Mrs. Matthews’ book, Fred the Fox Shouts “NO!”, is written in easy-to-understand language that is helpful to youngsters about this issue.¬† Her book is also beautifully and creatively-illustrated with drawings provided by Mrs. Allison Fears, showing Fred the Fox and his family discussing what Fred should do and how he should protect himself from unacceptable touch.

Fred the Fox Shouts “NO!” is a must-read, and an important and useful tool by which to teach children about their right to bodily privacy, what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable touch, and ways in which children can respond and react to those who exploit or attempt to exploit them.¬† This is a book that should definitely be read in every day care center, every preschool, and every elementary school.¬†

All children and youth should be educated about how to protect themselves from child sexual assault and abuse.¬† And, every one of us should be interested in keeping our children and youth safe from sexual predators.¬† Fred the Fox Shouts “NO!” is an excellent tool by which to achieve this endeavor.

References

Fred the Fox Shouts “NO!”.¬† June 5, 2012.¬† www.fredthefox.com.

Matthews, T.Y.K. (2010).¬† Fred the Fox Shouts “NO!”.¬† Tatiana Y. Kisil Matthews: Charleston, South Carolina.

Parents for Megan’s Law and The Crime Victim’s Center.¬† June 5, 2012.¬† http://www.parentsformeganslaw.org/public/statistics_childSexualAbuse.html.

Dr. Phillip Santa Maria: A Tribute By: Michele Babcock-Nice

Personal Tribute to Dr. Phillip Santa Maria,*

Former Associate Vice President for Student Affairs

and Dean of Students

at the State University of New York College at Buffalo

(March 10, 1943 – June 29, 2005)

By: Michele Babcock-Nice

 

Dr. Santa Maria
Dr. Santa Maria and I in 2000 at Buffalo State College
 

Having recently learned of the death of a wonderful college administrator, colleague, professor, leader, musician, Christian, mentor, and friend, Dr. Phillip Santa Maria, I have been moved to write this tribute to him.  Sadly, not having previously known of his passing shows how out-of-touch I have been about people and activities at the State University of New York College at Buffalo, my alma mater.  I recently sought to reconnect with Dr. Santa Maria through LinkedIn, and was informed by another administrator at the college of his passing. 

Dr. Santa Maria was Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students at the State University of New York College at Buffalo –¬†or Buffalo State College – in Buffalo, New York.¬† I had the privilege of meeting and knowing Dr. Santa Maria through my studies in the Master’s Degree Program in College Student Personnel Administration, offered at the college.¬† Attending the college and earning my degree in 1997, I again returned there in 1999-2000 to earn my secondary social studies teaching certificate.¬†

Throughout both periods of my attendance at Buffalo State College, I met and got to know Dr. Santa Maria on a professional level.  During the time that I was studying for my graduate degree, I was interested in completing an internship with Dr. Santa Maria, though he already had one or two interns working with him at the time.  

Returning to the college, later, to earn my teaching certification, I was determined to make myself known to Dr. Santa Maria.¬† His wonderful secretary, colleague, and friend, Nancy Terreri, initially arranged a time in which he and I could meet.¬† He and I, then,¬†mutually decided upon a way in which we could work together – through collaborating on the “Issues of Interest” Series, a collection of articles that I wrote through interviews with¬†him for the college newspaper, The Record.¬†¬†

As I sit here and type this, I cannot help but cry in remembering Dr. Santa Maria.¬† In everything that he did, “Dr. Phil,” as some of us jokingly called him, exemplified the utmost and highest possible professionalism.¬† Dr. Santa Maria was that rare and unique person¬†whom one meets and knows in his or her life who makes a positive difference in everything that he does.¬† He was a man of the greatest humility, ethics, and morals;¬†highest intelligence, competence, and standards; and most outstanding dignity, integrity, and respect.¬†¬†

Dr. Santa Maria led by example.  He was a man, leader, and role model who was open to people of all backgrounds, religions, races, ethnicities, and religions.  Dr. Santa Maria was the professional of all professionals.  Anyone whom Dr. Santa Maria met and with whom he interacted, he touched their lives in profound and wonderful ways.  The talents and skills of Dr. Santa Maria went beyond his office and boundaries of the college. 

Dr. Santa Maria was a well-known Russian historian, had visited Russia, and led educational tours of Russia.  He was a professor in the College Student Personnel Program, and taught classes in the program when called upon.  He was a guitarist in his band that played classical guitar music throughout Western New York and in Canada.  I was privileged to hear him play guitar with his band on two occasions, and brought my family to hear him play, as well.  

Dr. Santa Maria was always interested in the progress of the college and activities of the students.  I was a senator in the United Students Government at the college, and Dr. Santa Maria and I would sit and discuss some of the contemplations, plans, and activities of the group. 

Beginning as a writer and columnist for the college newspaper, The Record, Dr. Santa Maria provided me with many hours of his time over the course of one year, in interviews about issues that were of interest to students and others at the college.¬† I, then, fashioned those interviews into articles for the newspaper, calling them the “Issues of Interest” Series, a title mutually¬†decided upon by both of us.¬†As Dr. Santa Maria and I collaborated for the “Issues of Interest” Series, we got to know and trust each other more.¬†

When something came up and I had a couple of questions about sensitive issues at the newspaper office, I called him for his advice and guidance.  Dr. Santa Maria also placed much trust and confidence in me, as well, in inviting me to sit on the Student Judicial Appeal Board and hear cases of fellow students.  

This wonderful college leader further elevated me by inviting me to participate in the Faculty and Staff Committee on Alcohol and Other Substance Abuse as a student representative.  In regard to this Committee, Dr. Santa Maria was the Chairperson, and desired to spread awareness about the seriousness of alcohol and drug misuse and abuse on college campuses throughout the country. 

I can still hear Dr. Santa Maria now with his 1999 statement to me, “Students have certain freedoms, but with those freedoms come responsibilities.”¬† Dr. Santa Maria always desired for students to be good and intelligent citizens who were responsible for their actions.¬†

Yet again, Dr. Santa Maria continued his trust and confidence in me by inviting me to the annual dinner of the Buffalo Council on World Affairs, as one of a few student representatives of the college.  There, my horizons were expanded more still by hearing the speaker address the audience about important world social issues, as well as those affecting our local area. 

As a member of the student government, I was also one of a few college student¬†representatives to attend SUNY Day in Albany – an opportunity for college student leaders to visit the state’s capital and speak with state government representatives.¬† It was there that I met several state government leaders, including the Hon. Sam Hoyt, New York State Assembly Member for Buffalo, and was invited by him to intern in his office.¬† I believe that it may have been due to the professional reputation that Dr. Santa Maria had provided me in developing that led to yet another wonderful experience in interning with Assembly Member Hoyt.¬†

On one occasion while meeting with Dr. Santa Maria in his office for an interview, he was conducting a conference call with University Police Lieutenant Sam Lunetta, giving me the privilege of introducing me to him and listening to their conversation about campus safety.  Dr. Santa Maria and Lieutenant Lunetta regularly communicated with each other about happenings on campus related to public safety. 

Lieutenant Lunetta performed his work remarkably, which I shared with Dr. Santa Maria.  Dr. Santa Maria asked me if there was anything that I thought could be improved regarding campus safety.  As I was unable to think of anything, I responded to him that I believed they had all the bases covered.  In encouraging everyone on campus to be safe, using the Blue Light system, having parking lot bussing to the main part of campus, and a visible presence of public safety officers on campus, Dr. Santa Maria and Lieutenant Lunetta did their best to make sure that everyone on campus was safe at all times.  

Through Dr. Santa Maria’s introduction to me of Lieutenant Lunetta, I also interviewed him for a newspaper article on student drinking and thoughts about potential parental notification regarding it.¬† Dr. Santa Maria also encouraged me to meet and interview many other administrators, leaders, professors, and students at the college for the “Issues of Interest” Series, as well as to report on the “Great Decisions” Lecture Series on campus, which I did.¬†

Working with Dr. Santa Maria on this basis expanded my horizons and provided me with a broader knowledge of issues affecting college campuses. As a person of high expectations, ethics, morals, standards, and values, Dr. Santa Maria brought out the best in everyone.  This was no different with me Рhe brought out the best in me.  The more I interacted with him, the more I had the desire to excel and succeed, and to please him, professionally. 

The professionalism, integrity, and energy with which Dr. Santa Maria continually worked and led his life were a huge inspiration for me. Dr. Santa Maria had that gentle, caring, sensitive, and soft-spoken way about him that reached my heart and my soul.  It was as if he reached in and provided comfort and peace to my heart.  Talking with him, seeking his advice, and receiving his professional and personal guidance brought me a profound sense of calmness and trust in him.  We always conducted ourselves professionally and respectfully toward each other, and this provided the foundation for our trust and confidence in each other. 

On occasion, Dr. Santa Maria and I discussed personal issues that presented concerns to us.  I remember asking him what his thoughts were about whether or not I should move out-of-state to accept employment in teaching.  I shared with him that I was afraid to do so; he told me not to be afraid.  And, in telling me that, he had a way of comforting me that convinced me that everything would be okay.  

At one time, Dr. Santa Maria shared with me that he had considered taking work in a warmer part of the country, namely Florida, because he had just been there for a professional conference.  I stated to him that everyone at the college needed him, and I asked him what everyone would do without him.  He accepted that, though I am not sure that is the answer he was looking for.  

Dr. Santa Maria silently managed his career stresses every day, working extremely long hours, arriving very early and sometimes, going without lunch and dinner in order to complete his work.  He handled his professional stress with so much humility and acceptance.  He was a man who loved what he did, professionally, and was the best at it. 

He was also a man, who, in my observations, was deserving of more credit and respect for his work from his superiors, though he would never breathe a word about it.  I once accompanied Dr. Santa Maria to a board meeting of higher level administrators, and observed him sit quietly while others spoke.  It was then that I noticed that his work and accomplishments should have been more appropriately recognized by his superiors. 

Dr. Santa Maria was an excellent listener, as well as an outstanding communicator.  I personally wished that he was able to serve in a position of even higher leadership at the college as his professionalism and sensitivity would have reached even further than it already has. It was at this particular board meeting that Dr. Santa Maria introduced me to several college leaders, some of whom I had already met and others whom I had not.  There, he introduced me to Vice President for Student Affairs Hal Payne and International Student Affairs Director Jean-Francois Gounard, and some others.  I was also re-introduced to President Muriel Moore, whom I had previously known as a student at the University of Buffalo.  

Yet, again, Dr. Santa Maria provided me with another opportunity to network, and build and develop my professional experiences and reputation.¬† Dr. Santa Maria’s introduction of me to Dr. Gounard provided another professional friendship that developed while I was a student at Buffalo State College.¬† Dr. Gounard invited me to his offices, gave me a tour of them, and explained what services were provided there.¬†¬†

I shared with Dr. Gounard that I had studied abroad in Krakow, Poland through the University at Buffalo, and had independently traveled throughout Eastern and Western Europe, the British Isles, and Canada.  Dr. Gounard invited me to write an article for the International Student Affairs newsletter about my travels, which I did, while also providing an accompanying photograph.  Dr. Gounard further invited me to attend a professional luncheon that welcomed to Buffalo a fellow Frenchman, Phillip Jenkinson, who spoke there and who was very successful in business.  Thus, Dr. Santa Maria provided me with an experience of developing a positive relationship with another of his trusted colleagues. 

Dr. Santa Maria, being a person who was open to meeting, and networking and communicating with everyone, also allowed me to introduce him to a successful business leader and entrepreneur whom I knew from my hometown.  This business leader Рnow semi-retired Рwas the head of a successful sand, gravel, and asphalt company that has nine large business enterprises throughout Western New York and Eastern Pennsylvania.  Providing leading professionals with an opportunity to connect was important to me, as well as to Dr. Santa Maria, since one of my main interests in college administration is in career development. 

On another note, Dr. Santa Maria was an avid walker, and would walk late in the evenings after returning home from work, as he shared with me.  I was always happy that he was able to relieve some of his work stresses through exercise and other activities that he enjoyed, such as playing his guitar.  He and I had something in common in relation to these activities since I also enjoy walking and jogging, as well as having played piano and clarinet.  It is important for people to have recreational and creative outlets. 

I could reflect upon some of Dr. Santa Maria’s life, though I only became aware of so much more of what he did in his life following¬†his death.¬† Dr. Santa Maria was a person who was so focused on his work and the current events occurring in his life that the past was not something that we often discussed.¬†¬†Dr. Santa Maria once shared with me that he worked the night shift at the Bethlehem Steel Plant in Lackawanna, New York while he was attending college.¬† He was proud that he worked his way through college with¬†employment in the steel industry.¬† He and I also spoke of our families, and he shared with me about his daughter and son, as well as their studies and hopes for the future.¬†

The best way to remember Dr. Santa Maria in tribute is to recall and reflect upon the person whom he was.¬† Dr. Santa Maria is the epitome of a man –¬†a professional, a leader, a fellow Catholic and Christian, and a true gentleman.¬† He is the type of man that all men should aspire to be.¬† He was a true reflection of a¬†man¬†among men.¬†As the tear stains have now dried upon my face, though my eyes are welling up again, I remember Dr. Santa Maria and the man whom he was.¬†

Dr. Santa Maria was and is a man whose spirit touched the lives of so many people in such wonderful ways.  My tribute and description here pale in comparison to the person whom he was.  I am so honored, privileged, and blessed to have known Dr. Phillip Santa Maria, to have him as a colleague, friend, and mentor.  One would be truly blessed to have met Dr. Santa Maria or even one like him throughout their entire lives.  He continues to serve as a role model and inspiration to me, professionally and spiritually.  

Dr. Santa Maria, as a professional, I hold you in the very highest regard.¬† As a friend, I will always love, honor, and respect you, in the most moral, ethical, and appropriate ways.¬† Thank you for the time that you spent with me, guiding me and shaping me through your wisdom, intelligence, and leadership.¬† Thank you for sharing your life and experiences with me.¬† Thank you for your friendship, trust, and confidence.¬† I am so sad that I was not aware of, nor informed of your illness or passing until now, though I will always remember you and honor your spirit.¬† Let us remember better times.¬† Until we meet again…¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†

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Please consider making a financial contribution to the Dr. Phillip Santa Maria Memorial Fund through the Buffalo State College Foundation.  Monies contributed in this fund are awarded as scholarships to outstanding students at Buffalo State College.

*Note: This article has been posted twice since online searches for it were providing error results.