One day during her first year at Brown, Jessica Biesel was sitting in
the Ratty when a slip of paper on the table caught her eye. On it was
information about the suicide-prevention hotline run by the Samaritans
of Rhode Island and its student-volunteer club at Brown.
So Biesel decided to become a Samaritans volunteer. She went through
roughly twenty hours of training, but, instead of answering the hotline
herself, she decided to work on organizing events and recruiting
volunteers. “I thought this had only happened to me,” she says, “but
through the Samaritans I’ve met so many people now who have lost
somebody to suicide. The stigma attached to suicide is enormous. I had
never realized how prevalent it is. By raising awareness, we can get
people to the help they need.”
In between playing intramural volleyball and studying, Biesel became
head of the Samaritans’ campus volunteer group. By the time she
graduated in May, the number of student volunteers had doubled to almost
seventy. For her leadership and her contributions to student life, at
Commencement she was one of a handful of students to receive an Alfred
H. Joslin ’36 Award, which is given for demonstrating extraordinary
Although Biesel entered Brown as an engineering student, she took a
sociology class during her freshman year and, she says, “I fell in love
with the material.” She switched her concentration and wrote an honors
thesis on the way gender is represented in pop music lyrics.
After graduation, she moved to Fort Lauderdale, a city where she knows
no one, to take a job at Citrix, an information technology company that
Biesel learned about at a Brown career fair. She figures she’ll work
there for a while and then head back to grad school, although she’s not
yet sure what she will study there.
And she’s not giving up the Samaritans. Her final project at Brown was
to write a business plan for a nonprofit venture. She realized after
talking with the director of the Samaritans that little support is given
to children who have lost friends or close relatives to suicide.
Bereaved teenagers and young adults do have organized peer groups, but
there is nothing like that for young children. Biesel’s business plan
created a kids’ summer camp named after her brother—Camp Gary.
For now, it exists only on paper. “We don’t have funding yet,” Biesel says, “but it’s something I definitely want to tackle.”
Photo by Dana Smith