Homeless and Hungry on Campus

BY DANIELLE ROY // DEC. 5, 2010 //

You may have noticed the fliers around campus regarding homelessness in Massachusetts and the United States. What few students seem to know, however, is the purpose behind the paper.

This fall, students in a first-year seminar course titled “Discover: Community Action” decided to do a class project around homelessness, poverty and inequality in the United States. They researched their subjects—about 2 million Americans, half of which are children, are currently homeless, they found—and later spent a day volunteering at The Greater Boston Food Bank, the largest hunger-relief organization in New England. But it was part three of the project that was the toughest: an on-campus overnight sleep-out.

“This wasn’t about pretending to be homeless. It’s more about deeply reflecting on what you have, what if it’s taken away from you for a little bit, what you don’t have, and what it feels like,” said Professor Karen Lischinsky, who led the overnight learning experience with Professor Carrie Cokely. “It was really about what it would be like to be disempowered, and the students didn’t realize how disempowered they would be.”

The sleep-out began on Tuesday, Nov. 16 at 7 p.m. and continued until 11 the following morning. Students were allowed to bring the clothes on their bodies, a sleeping bag, and nothing else. As it turned out, Nov. 16 was a rainy day…and night.

After spending hours in the rain, students became hungry and were told that they could go to a makeshift soup kitchen in the AAPC, where they would be given some bread with turkey and bologna, potato chips and apples to eat, but nothing to drink. Once the students began to get comfortable and warm, Lischinsky told them that the “kitchen” was closing and they had to leave. Frustrated, they returned to the rain with the bitter taste of injustice. Some students were quickly losing their patience.

“You can leave,” Lischinsky told them. “But if you do leave, you’ve acted on your class privilege.” Everyone stuck it out. They found cover to get some sleep, and to pass the time, some students started to sing, Lischinsky said.

“I did sprints back and forth on the ledge in front of Hafer, and pushups because it was so cold,” said Dan Ockene, who was part of the sleep-out.

To bolster the reality and learning, Lischinsky gave some students snacks, or pieces of candy, while others received nothing. She later asked the students who didn’t receive anything how it made them feel, and encouraged them to try to remember that feeling the next time they saw someone homeless on the street.

During their experience students also learned how some people react to and act on homelessness. One person, who remains unknown, brought two large cartons of hot chocolate for the students. Another, a professor unaware of the students’ experiment, kicked and yelled at them for sleeping outside Hafer and called public safety. “It was amazing in the sense that it does reflect reality. Hate crimes against the homeless are real, but we don’t talk about it,” Lischinsky said. “Hate crimes against poor people doesn’t get recognized, but it’s real and it happens a lot.”

After the sleep-out, students said it was one of the worst times they have ever experienced, yet they got a lot out of it.

“If I was that cold every night, I wouldn’t be able to survive,” said student Ethan Wajer after his time at the sleep-out. “It helped us to understand what homeless people go through, except it’s 1,000 times worse.”

“Through it all, it taught me that someone who really is in this situation can easily lose their self-confidence and mentally shut down,” added student participant Chelsie Young. “Being homeless can be degrading.”

It’s that kind of understanding that made the project an academic success, said Lischinsky.

“This experience was something that couldn’t be recreated in a classroom, but the classroom became the outside world,” she said. “It is a different kind of teaching, very effective. It takes theory into practice.

“Student activism doesn’t just last from 11:30 to 12:20.”

Student Who Discovered Body Speaks Out

BY ANDREW BLOM // DEC. 5, 2010 //

Not everyone on campus knows her, but enough do. For the past two weeks she’s endured dirty looks and the spread of rumors about her role in the death of a 16-year-old boy found just miles from Curry College last month.

Even on her best days, she says, she doesn’t hide well in a crowd of people. But she shouldn’t have to hide, she says, which is why she wants to tell her side of the story.

“It was surreal; I was just at the wrong place at the wrong time,” says the female Curry student, and owner of the now-infamous white Audi, who was the first to discover the mutilated body of Delvonte Tisdale, a North Carolina high school student who mysteriously turned up dead in Milton in mid-November.

That discovery, she says, was the beginning of two weeks in hell.

“Everyone’s staring at me,” she says. “I want people to understand I didn’t do it.”

In telling her story, The Currier Times has agreed to maintain her privacy by not revealing her name. A number of people on campus already know who she is; others only know her by the car she drives. But most aren’t aware that this student, an upperclassman from out-of-state, is the person involved in a national murder investigation. She has neither been charged with any crime in connection to the incident, nor was she even arrested.

Despite the turmoil in her life, there is a calm demeanor about her. She tells her tale while holding an Amp energy drink and a copy of the fall semester finals schedule. She wants to clear the air.

Her troubles started on Nov. 15 when the body of an unknown black male was found on Brierbrook Street, located in an upscale neighborhood in Milton. The body was so mutilated it was hard to identify, and the presumed murder was widely reported by the news media throughout Massachusetts and much of the nation.

The connection to a Curry student was made when neighbors reported seeing a white Audi leave the scene. Police began a frantic search for the vehicle, which was eventually picked up in Dorchester after the student notified police that it was her car they were looking for. Broadcast TV stations showed police taking away the Audi, which had blood on the tires and a Curry College parking sticker on the window.

That’s when the rumors began to fly.

“I was driving with one friend after I had a rough day. When I have those days I just drive down roads,” she says. “People assume a Curry College student driving the back roads at night must have something to do with drugs. But there were no drugs involved. I was out venting with my friend. The last thing I needed was drugs.”

What happened next, she says, was nothing more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time, followed by a slew of questionable decisions. Upon discovering the body, and not fully knowing what to make of it, she says she contacted a friend on campus who arrived with four others packed into a black sedan. The owner of the Audi says she has a history of anxiety attacks, and has previously taken prescription medication for them. She was no longer on her medication, however, and she began freaking out. So, she left with one of the friends.

“I didn’t know what it was. It looked like a scarecrow with a pumpkin head, like a Halloween decoration,” she says. “Last thing I thought was an actual person.

“I drove by it once and didn’t know if it was real or fake. Then I saw the bottom of the feet and I started freaking out,” she continues. “There was no one else down that road and I didn’t know if this was gang related. There might have been someone in the bushes or something, so I called my friends. I couldn’t handle it and I drove away and left.

“I left because I wasn’t involved,” she says, adding that she had been ticketed in Boston days earlier for driving with an expired car registration. On the night of her discovery, she also wasn’t carrying her driver’s license. “I didn’t realize that I was leaving a crime scene.”

She says she returned to campus to the comfort of friends that evening. She stayed at Curry overnight, even though she lives in an off-campus apartment, because she says she couldn’t imagine sleeping alone that evening.

“When my Audi was on the news I said, ‘O.K, this is a story.’ And then the police were looking for me the next day,” she says. “I didn’t want them looking for the wrong person. So I got a lawyer and turned myself in.”

She says she hired an attorney on the advice of her mother and older brother. The attorney contacted Milton police and said the driver would come in and talk, but that she wanted to wait one more day. “‘Just let me be,’ I thought,” she says. “I didn’t want to be stressed for one night. Then I will be OK.”

Her car was immediately impounded and the rumors quickly spread that the driver of a white Audi with a Curry College parking sticker killed someone. Some even suggested that she repeatedly drove over the body. On a college campus, rumors have a tendency to become a defining narrative.

“No, no, no!” she says, her eyes wide with exasperation. “I only drove past it. But it was so mutilated that blood was all over the road and some got on my tires. It would have been obvious had I ran the body over. There was no dent and I have a low-risen car.

“I wouldn’t be here at Curry right now if I hit it,” she adds.

Police have been silent about the ongoing investigation. One theory law enforcement officials were exploring was whether Tisdale stowed away in the wheel-well of an airplane from Charlotte to Boston—he reportedly ran away from home before, according to media reports—and died either in the well or by falling when the plane’s landing gear opened upon descent. On Dec. 8, WCVB-TV in Boston reported that a law enforcement official said investigators were “nearly certain” that is how Tisdale died. Police haven’t yet publicly commented, however.

Milton Deputy Chief Charles Paris did tell the news media in late November that the owner of the Audi was not a suspect but rather a witness. Milton police has since declined to comment on the investigation. The Audi, however, remains impounded, a source of major frustration for its owner.

“Something like this doesn’t even cross your mind; it has to be anything but this. But maybe in my mind I knew it was real,” she says of the discovery. “My mind freaked out so much I actually can’t remember it. The horrible parts are blocked out. The road was so dark. All I wanted was to see another car come down to help me. It felt like a dream. Like a dream, I don’t remember a lot of it. I try to forget.”

She says the string of poor decisions relating to leaving the scene, not coming forward quicker, and the delay in turning herself in gave police good reason to be skeptical. She says she was interrogated for three hours when she first met with police, and hadn’t been questioned by any law enforcement officials since.

“I broke down [crying] a couple of times” during the questioning, she says, frequently citing TV shows like “Law & Order” and “CSI” as the basis of her knowledge of investigative protocol. “The police need to break you down when they try and get the truth out of you.”

Once she returned to school, many of the problems of the outside world remained on campus. Students and faculty began asking her why she’s being arrested for murder and how did she know the boy from North Carolina. “It’s funny when it’s not true,” she says. “But people didn’t even want me in their rooms. Everyone was staring at me, and already I don’t hide well in a crowd.”

She says she holds absolutely no animosity toward the police, who were and continue to simply do their jobs. She also says that Curry administrators have treated her and her friends well. Her professors also have understood, she says, given that she wasn’t able to concentrate much on classwork, which was the “furthest thing from my mind” during the weeks following her discovery.

Otherwise, she is asking for very little assistance in her efforts to return to normalcy. “I’m not the type that asks for help,” she says. “When I got back I jumped right back in. My friends are there for me. They went through all this with me….I just needed someone to say, ‘We know you didn’t do it.’ My friends are the most helpful.”

She says one of the great ironies is that she lives to help people. She wants to work with people, and perhaps join the Peace Corps following graduation. She says she chalks up the experience of this semester as another of a “series of strange events in my life” and that “suffering is a part of life that makes you stronger.

“It all happens for a reason,” she adds. “I try to be optimistic about it, trying to find the bright side. It’s almost over.”