Out of the darkness volunteers at the event
Volunteers at the Out of the Darkness Campus Walk

The Out of the Darkness Campus Walk is hosted annually by Siena to raise awareness about suicide prevention. This year, the event took on added depth and poignancy due to the recent loss of a Siena community member.

The November 6 walk drew more than 400 attendees, in part due to the October 24 death of junior Dominic Paglia. His parents, Regina and Tom, and his siblings, Erin and Vincent, came to campus to give and receive support from the Siena community.  

The event began with a wellness fair in the SSU and speeches at the Nigro Family Plaza, with opening remarks by Mo Hannah, Ph.D., professor of psychology. Participants then processed across the Siena campus and down Route 9 and Spring Street Road to the Grotto. Br. Jason Damon, OFM presided over a prayer service and candle lighting ceremony. 

Tom Paglia read from a letter the family wrote to the campus community: 

“I want to start with a heartfelt THANK YOU for the outpouring of love and support during this extremely difficult time. We realize you are grieving with us and for us. Please realize that we are grieving with you and for you. Dom was a gentle and caring person who would never intentionally hurt anyone. He made a decision in a difficult moment without realizing the ramifications of his decision on his loved ones and the community. I know if he had a “do-over” knowing the ramifications of his decision, he would have decided differently. He is with our Lord while we are still here. … We all realize the need to mourn, however we must also realize the need to move on with our lives and keep a place in our hearts for Dom. Dom left us a legacy that if recognized and practiced, will allow him to live in our hearts and continue to have a positive impact on the world in which we live.”

The Walk at the Grotto
Out of the darkness walk

Out of the Darkness is a nationwide event organized through the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Community walks are held each spring across the country; Siena hosts its walk in the fall so juniors enrolled in Prof. Donna McIntosh’s Social Work 315 class can plan it for the start of the academic year in collaboration with the Office of Health Promotion. 

Kate Kaufman Burns, MSW, LCSW-R, director of health promotion, said the walk is a “call to action to support each other’s mental health and well-being.

“This was a transformative event for our campus,” she said. “The Paglia family, through their grace and resilience, gave us permission to move forward. We choose not to linger on the one brief moment of Dom's passing. That would undermine the totality of his beautiful life.” 

Burns noted that suicide is the second leading cause of death for Americans ages 15-24. At the walk, participants wore necklaces with beads colored to indicate a personal connection to someone who died by suicide or who struggles with mental illness: white for the loss of a child, red for the loss of a spouse or partner, gold for the loss of a parent, and so on. 

“The necklaces allow us to see other’s pain. They are very eye-opening, powerful and allow for great vulnerability. Suicidal thoughts and feelings often bring a quiet kind of suffering that is not easily seen by others. The quiet witness of the necklaces reflects that.”

A memorial Mass for Dominic will be celebrated on Sunday, Dec. 5 at 11AM in the Chapel. A reception will be held afterwards. Students who are interested in helping to plan the reception should email kkaufmanburns@siena.edu.

“The week after Dom’s death there was a very heavy feeling on campus. Even if we didn’t know him personally, we were all feeling something. The walk was an opportunity to come together to process what happened, and it gave a lot of people a sense of peace. People are hurting, and they need to know that it’s OK to talk things out and connect with others, to be kind to yourself and others.”

Sarah Konig ’22, helped lead planning for the day’s walk and wellness activities 

“When you speak the word ‘suicide’ it takes it out of the darkness. It gives people permission to talk about unbearable pain. Our society is starting to address the issue of suicide more boldly.” 

Kate Kaufman Burns, MSW, LCSW-R, director of health promotion