Categories
News

‘Know that you are never alone’: Community, family mourns loss of ND sophomore

James “Jake” Blaauboer passed away unexpectedly on Friday, Nov. 11. Blaauboer was a sophomore at Notre Dame, veteran of the U.S. Army and avid runner, but most importantly, he was a brother, a son and a friend.

Born in December 1995, Blaauboer grew up in upstate New York in a small town called Clifton Park. He lived with his loving parents, Mary and James “Jim” Blaauboer, and younger sister Molly Blaauboer. 

Molly Blaauboer, only 20 months younger than Blaauboer, said she was always the “proud younger sister,” following behind Jake throughout their schooling. 

“Molly is very outgoing and social, and Jake was very reserved and would keenly observe,” their mother, Mary Blaauboer, explained. 

Jake and Molly Blaauboer grew up together in Clifton Park, New York with their parents, Mary and Jim Blaauboer. / Courtesy of Molly Blaauboer.

Right out of high school, Blaauboer enlisted in the U.S. Army, and then spent the next few years of his life in active and reserve duty, during most of which he was stationed in Fort Carson, Colorado. 

After his service, Blaauboer started community college and applied to a myriad of other universities and colleges — one of which was the University of Notre Dame. Although his parents said they had no personal connection to Notre Dame, the family grew up watching Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish win football games. 

Blaauboer first transferred into the University in the fall of 2019, where he was a sophomore English major in St. Edward’s Hall. 

His family explained that although Blaauboer loved to read and write, he didn’t know what he wanted to accomplish with an English degree— which was why he took a leave of absence from the University in 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. 

When he left Notre Dame, Blaauboer went directly into technical school where he learned to be a welder. Working with his hands was something that Blaauboer began during his time as the Army when he was randomly selected to be a mechanic, Molly Blaauboer said.  

“We’re getting outreach now about how great he was at being a mechanic and what a great soldier he was, which we totally believe, but it’s interesting to see the ripple,” she noted. 

After he finished technical school, the family said Blaauboer moved to Maine to work as a welder, far away from his hometown in New York. 

While the family was in Maine celebrating Easter 2022, Molly Blaauboer mentioned that Blaauboer announced his intention to return to Notre Dame unexpectedly. 

“This is completely out of the blue,” she said. “[He said,] ‘I have something to tell you guys … I’ve applied to be unparoled from Notre Dame.’”

Jake Blaauboer was only 20 months older than Molly, who said her teachers always liked to have another Blaauboer in their classrooms. / Courtesy of Molly Blaauboer.

Molly Blaauboer noted that this wasn’t unlike Blaauboer and that he often changed his mind about what he wanted to accomplish with his life. 

“I would joke about how I wonder what he wants to do this week,” she laughed. 

Mary Blaauboer explained that Blaauboer wasn’t happy as a welder because he needed something more intellectually stimulating. The family said he loved to debate politics, philosophy and history with anyone who would listen. 

“He’s an intellectual person, you know, he was a deep thinker. He was a reader,” Mary said. 

Blaauboer had to go through an entire re-entry process, Molly said, and finally found out he was retuning in July. So, in August 2022, now 26 year old Blaauboer moved to Notre Dame for the second time but as a history major instead. 

Because adjusting to college life can be hard — especially the second time — Notre Dame’s care and wellness consultants in the Center for Student Support and Care put together a support group filled with re-admitted students, including Blaauboer and fellow sophomore Ua Tom.  

Tom, a theology major and native of the Bronx in New York City, said he was originally a Gateway student, but he took time off from the University because he didn’t want his first semester at Notre Dame to be controlled by the COVID-19 pandemic. While away, Tom returned to NYC and was a teacher in Chinatown. 

“All of us re-admits, we have our mental health issues, for sure, every single one of us. But that’s also what got us close,” Tom noted. 

The support group, colloquially named “we back” by the members, met every Wednesday at 4 p.m., according to Tom. 

“Self-deprecation was the highest form of humor that we have for ourselves in that group. We dropped out but we’re back,” he joked. 

Tom explained that Blaauboer stood out as a natural mentor and leader of the group.

“When Jake spoke, people listened, he was just so earnest and genuine. Jake always checked up on me and was a wonderful influence on myself and the rest of the readmitted students,” Tom said. “He happily and naturally took on the role of an older brother and mentor, and whenever I saw him it would totally make my day. It was clear from the moment that I met him that he had a big heart. His positivity and compassion was contagious.”

Tom said he would never forget one moment when Blaauboer helped Tom during a difficult period of time.

“I’ll never forget when I was really having a tough time [at the beginning of the semester] when I was in the thick of [transitioning] and really struggling to focus on class,” he explained. “Jake gave me a hug. He told me he was there for me, and I wasn’t alone.”

Although he had only known Blaauboer for a short time, Tom noted how much of an impact Blaauboer had on him, saying that he wished they had spent more time together. 

“He really was a light of a human being. He was such an easily likable guy who was really gentle and kind,” he said. “In some ways, he knew us better than we knew ourselves.”

Apart from classes and the support group, Blaauboer was also active in the Notre Dame Running Club. Race coordinator for the club and Stanford Hall junior Jonathan Karr said Blaauboer was an active member of the group and often volunteered to drive the team to and from meets. 

“He was very supportive of the entire team. He took pictures when we ran, he wanted us to succeed, and he cheered for all the runners,” Karr said. 

Karr emphasized how deeply grateful he was for Blaauboer’s positive influence on the team and for him personally. 

“I was a very close friend with Jake, and he really helped the team,” Karr noted. “He really, really embodied what it means to be a Fighting Irish.”

The family also emphasized how important running, particularly the routine of the sport, was to Blaauboer.

“He was strict with himself,” Mary Blaauboer said. “Routine and ritual were important to him in every aspect. So, there was a routine for food and exercise and friendships and then the school and work and everything. For him, overlapping those things was uncomfortable.”

They said he also loved comedy and was a huge fan of movies. Overall, the Blaauboers said the outpouring of love they have received from family, friends, teammates and anyone who knew Blaauboer has meant a lot to them. 

“That’s an amazing blessing and comfort — to know that he’s remembered and prayed for,” Mary Blaauboer said.

The family said Jake Blaauboer loved movies, comedy and running. He would also debate politics or philosophy with anyone who would listen. / Courtesy of Molly Blaauboer.

Tom emphasized that anyone, who knew Blaauboer personally or not, can honor his memory by living fully and not being afraid to reach out to others.

“Live with the same spirit that he did,” Tom said. “Reach out and ask someone how they are doing, like he did for us.”

Fr. Pete McCormick, the inaugural assistant vice president for campus ministry, echoed Tom’s sentiment during Notre Dame’s mass of remembrance on Nov. 16.

“Sometimes words fail and can’t always communicate the depths of sorrow,” he said. “Be unafraid to reach out to a member of hall staff, the University Counseling Center (UCC) or campus ministry. Know that you are never alone.”

Contact Bella Laufenberg at ilaufenb@nd.edu.

Categories
News

Explained: University leaders talk about the history and purpose of SpeakUp

SpeakUp Notre Dame is a call to the campus community to not be silent but heard.  

Following the Inclusive Campus Survey, which uncovered that only 15% of the student body knew how to use SpeakUp, the Observer spoke to University administrators and other leaders to dive deeper into the history behind the tool, the intended purpose and how it works in practice. 

Historical Significance 

SpeakUp was first published as a resource for the Notre Dame campus in 2015 after recommendations from the Diversity Council and the Division of Student Affairs. 

Director of communications for the division, Kate Morgan, explained that around the same time, student affairs was made aware of several “concerning” incidents surrounding racial discrimination on campus. 

“The roots are in really related to race,” she noted. 

They realized, she said, there was a need for a space where anyone on campus could file a complaint or report an issue to the correct office. 

“[The division] wanted to make a space for people to be able to report and have more ease doing that, because [anyone needing to report] didn’t know where to go,” she said. 

After the first iteration, SpeakUp underwent a reorganization in 2019. Morgan said she oversaw the redesign that was informed by the 2018 Inclusive Campus Survey. 

“We revamped it based on the student feedback, and I think it’s a lot easier to follow once you get on the site and really realize that it is a reporting tool,” she explained. 

As part of the reworking, Morgan said she and Office of Community Standards (OCS) director Heather Ryan worked together closely to make the site more user-friendly and answer common questions about the reporting process, including detailing the difference between confidential and non-confidential resources on campus, options for reporting and what reporters can expect next. 

Morgan noted specifically that anyone who works with the University is a non-confidential resource, with the exception of medical staff, anyone within the University Counseling Center (UCC) and a vowed religious acting within the capacity of their vows. One example Morgan used was a priest who also serves as the rector of a residence hall. She explained that he would be considered a non-confidential resource because he is not specifically working within his duties as a priest. Morgan also mentioned there is a difference between being a non-confidential resource and a mandatory reporter. 

Morgan said she is very proud of how the SpeakUp site is organized now and believes that students will have an easier time navigating the site to learn the tool’s purpose and filing a report correctly if the need arises. 

The Mechanics

Anyone with a Notre Dame NetID (the beginning part of any Notre Dame email address) can access SpeakUp and file a report. 

Ryan referred to the tool as a “landing page,” explaining that from the SpeakUp website, a student can file a variety of different reports based on the specific incident. On the reporting page, a reporter has five different options of which type of report to file: an incidence of racial or discriminatory harassment, anything related to sexual harassment and wrongdoing, hazing or initiatory events, retaliation or violation of a University order, and any other type of incident. 

Based on which report is chosen, the completed form is routed to the corresponding office. For example, an incidence of sexual harassment that was reported would go directly to the University’s Title IX office. 

Director of diversity and inclusion for race and ethnicity Faith Woods explained that the purpose of SpeakUp is to be a “direct connection” between the administration and anyone who has been involved or witnessed an incident of wrongdoing. 

Ryan and Morgan both emphasized although the process varies within the circumstances of the incident, someone from the addressing department on campus will reach out to those involved in a timely manner about the next steps. 

“I think one piece that’s important to note is that [within 48 hours], you will hear from someone to go through what next steps would be appropriate for that particular complaint or grievance,” Morgan noted. 

Ryan said that specifically within OCS, outcomes of a filed complaint will take one of three routes: the meeting, the conference and the hearing. She said the meeting is the least formal, consisting of a meeting with a rector or hall staff for a first-time offense; whereas, the hearing is a more severe outcome with possible University dismissal in the realm of decisions.

“The conference is the middle part, it’s sort of a middle ground with a lot of formation and growth can occur,” she said. “It still has some disciplinary status outcomes available, but that’s not maybe the first place those conversations start.”

Future Directions and Drawbacks

Both Morgan and Ryan acknowledged there is still work to be done to publicize the SpeakUp tool. 

Outside the student-led focus groups coming out of the Inclusive Campus Survey, another of the steps taken recently was a joint campaign with the Division of Student Affairs and Notre Dame student government, specifically student government director of gender relations for Title IX and woman’s initiatives Lane Obringer. 

Obringer said she noticed that a lot of the promotional material for SpeakUp was outdated and saw an opportunity to raise awareness for a tool she believes is extremely important. 

“I thought that just bringing [SpeakUp] to the forefront of the student body’s attention would be super important as we began the school year, especially because the time from the first day of school until Thanksgiving break is known as the Red Zone of increased sexual assaults and violence on college campuses,” she said. 

Over the summer, Obringer worked with Morgan to design new promotional material for SpeakUp.

One place Obringer hesitates in regard to SpeakUp is that she knows the decision to bring an incident forward to University officials is difficult. 

“I’m really, really grateful that SpeakUpND does exist — we need a platform for students to be able to share their experiences of the bad things that have happened on this campus,” she emphasized. “But I also understand its downsides.”

When asked about her views on SpeakUp as a whole, Obringer began to tell a story of when she sat in on a faculty senate meeting. 

Obringer said that when SpeakUp was brought up in the meeting, none of the faculty knew what it was or how to access it. 

“That was really worrisome to me, that faculty, and sometimes staff members aren’t aware of SpeakUpND, and they don’t know its purpose,” she said. “Yes, SpeakUp is important. Yes, it is a vital resource for our campus, but all eyes need to be on it.”

Director of multicultural student programs and services (MSPS) Arnel Bulaoro said he encourages students to utilize SpeakUp when they face situations with harmful racial harassment, bias or discrimination. He noted that part of his role as director is to help the administration and assist students who experience racial microaggressions. 

Bulaoro pointed out that although the reporting tool aims to decrease incidents of wrongdoing on campus, reporting itself can be a burden at times. 

“The nature of SpeakUp as a tool is to raise awareness of incidents, investigate and to support. It is not designed to cause harm to those who are injured by these incidents, but it is fair to say that reliving them can be a source of pain,” he said in an email. 

As far as the future goes, Bulaoro wrote that he believes the University can do more to promote SpeakUp to the student body. 

“Several years ago, Diversity Council suggested to the University to create a reporting tool and to that end, SpeakUp is serving its intended purpose,” he said. “Perhaps, it is more fair to say that our campus community can raise awareness that this tool is available to help make our community a better place.”

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified the housing office of SpeakUpND. The Observer regrets this error.

Contact Bella at ilaufenb@nd.edu