Eric Francavilla/The Daily EvergreenA somber scene unfolded at the University of Idaho campus on Tuesday afternoon.
A collage of green leaves, red brick buildings and blue sky reflected off of the polished granite of a special new bench. As two cellos sang on the lawn east of the UI Administrative Building, family and Moscow community members watched the ceremony, remembering a student whose death shocked many.
The bench memorializes Katy Benoit, a 22-year-old graduate student who was shot and killed a year ago today by former UI psychology professor Ernesto Bustamante. He committed suicide shortly thereafter.
Attendees included Benoit’s friends and family, law enforcement and other members of the community. Benoit’s cello instructor, Bill Wharton, and his wife, Linda, played their cellos.
Inscribed on the bench are the words: “In memory of Katy’s journey, her care for others, her willingness to speak up, and her courage to make a difference.”
“This bench will serve as a reminder of the vibrant young life taken from us way too quickly,” UI President M. Duane Nellis said at the ceremony, “but also as a reminder of the importance of continuing vigilance and effort in protecting those who come to us in the future.”
The university will host a safety forum named for Katy Benoit from Sept. 19-27 to engage the community in improving campus safety, according to a statement from the university last week.
The nine-day-long event is the first in a series of annual forums, and this year’s safety theme will play off the phrase “I’ve got your back,” said Bruce Pitman, the vice provost for student affairs and dean of students at the university.
“We’re going to use that theme when we are encouraging students to intervene on the part of their friends who may be in distress,” Pitman told The Daily Evergreen.
The safety campaign will encompass various topics from alcohol use to mental health and sexual abuse, he said.
“Even though we know we have a very safe campus… we know that we could never take that for granted,” Pitman said.
After Benoit’s death, the university appointed a task force that proposed 10 recommendations for improving safety. Some of those recommendations have already been implemented, such as building the website www.uidaho.edu/emergency, which brings together numerous safety resources.
Benoit’s mother, Janet, thanked the university and community at the ceremony and encouraged people to remember her daughter’s story so that other sons and daughters can be saved.
“Our journey is now one of healing,” she said. “It’s of continuing to care. It’s of forgiveness. It’s of going forward with the lessons that (Katy) taught us. And remembering what she brought to this world.”
Benoit may have been a UI student, but her message also resonates at WSU, Pitman said.
“I know that (WSU officials) share our concern that students need to be an important part of the safety message, and they need to be an important part of our way of knowing when other students are in distress,” he said. “And they need to and will make connections with their students leaders and students who are in touch with some students who are in distress.”