Elon University will welcome the parents of Lauren Astley Monday and Tuesday for a week-long celebration of her life, including a gathering of friends in her memory and discussions about dating violence.
The Wayland, Mass. native was found dead of apparent homicide July 4, two months before she would have arrived at Elon as a member of the Class of 2015.
Grief can bring communities together, according to Elizabeth Nelson, associate director for health promotions and coordinator for inter-personal relations and community wellbeing at Elon, who was instrumental in bringing Malcolm Astley to campus.
"Part of that is by honoring those who survive Lauren," Nelson said. "By hosting her parents, we are giving witness to their deep loss, as well as embracing the complexity of loss by bringing people with a variety of connections to Lauren's story together in conversation."
Authorities have charged Nathaniel Fujita, a classmate and former boyfriend of Lauren's, with the murder. He is currently being held without bail with an Oct. 29 court date after pleading not guilty to first-degree murder, one of five charges, according to a recent article in The Boston Globe.
In the wake of her death last summer, her father Malcolm Astley said he wants a positive outcome to arise from the devastating loss. Since then, he has become an advocate for healthy teen relationships.
“I just hope so much that her death can support positive steps by kids to treasure what time they have and also to work at deeply delving into matters of respecting each other,” he said in a previous interview. “There are forces that are pushing both kids and the whole world to be so competitive and work toward dominance instead of mutual cooperation.”
Nelson said hearing from someone who has experienced loss as a result of relationship violence is particularly meaningful.
"Hearing a personal story helps move the issue of relationship violence from a concept to a lived reality," she said. "We care more when we know a personal story. We are more willing to take action."
And while much emphasis is often placed on those who successfully overcome an unhealthy relationship, equal focus must be given to those who don't, Nelson said.
"Those stories must and should be celebrated, but we need to also make room for the stories of people who did not survive," she said. "We cannot shy away from the reality that people lose their life, and the survivors are those they leave behind."
Following the visit of Lauren's parents Monday and Tuesday, a faculty- and staff-led discussion will explore the role of religion in forming healthy relationship and handling unhealthy ones. While the panel will include religious themes, Nelson said those who are agnostic and atheist should still participate.
"Most religious traditions include guidance around romantic relationships, but these teachings are not all the same," she said. "Whether or not we choose to follow the guidance of our religion, many of us use these teachings as a foundation for our own personal beliefs (and) actions about relationships."
Memory and Witness: A Week Honoring the Life of Lauren Dunne Astley '16
A Gathering of Friends: A Celebration of the Life of Lauren Dunne Astley 4:00 pm Monday, March 26 Room 100 Johnston Hall
Bearing Witness: A Conversation about Loss & Hope Featuring Malcolm Astley, father of Lauren Dunne Astley 5:00pm Tuesday, March 27 The Oak Room (Moseley 106) Refreshments Provided
Religion & Relationships: Messages & Misunderstandings A panel discussion featuring faculty and staff members sharing how their religious tradition addresses romantic relationships 7pm Wednesday, March 28 KOBC 208
Healthy or Unhealthy? A Conversation about Choices 7:00pm Thursday, March 29 The Oak Room (Moseley 106)
Sponsored by the Office of Health Promotion, Interpersonal Relations and Community Well-Being, the Truitt Center for Religious and Spiritual Life and the Office of Violence Prevention and Response [/box]
Check back with The Pendulum without the week for full coverage.