Rachel Laura Blunt, a junior at Ursinus known as Chell, died on the evening of Thursday, Feb. 28. According to a campus-wide email from President Bobby Fong, the cause of death was suicide.
“I hope you all will remember Rachel for [hir] many talents, [hir] humor, [hir] quick mind and [hir] generosity to friends. The way [xe] died should not color the way [xe] lived, except to teach us,” Martha Frase, Blunt’s mother, wrote in a letter to friends and family on Facebook.
Faculty, staff members and friends described the way Blunt lived as unique and intense, a creative vibrancy that manifested itself in hir love for the arts. Blunt, who double majored in art and media and communication studies, had a passion for drawing, painting, acting and writing as well as a deep interest in film.
“Rachel was a true artist,” Domenick Scudera, professor of theater, said. “[Xe] was always drawing, performing, creating in some way. [Xe] was outspoken and original. [Xe] made a lasting impression.”
Faculty who knew Blunt linked hir creative expression with hir individuality.
“Chell was a talented and thoughtful painter with an original style and independent voice,” Kay Healy, professor of art, said.
“[Chell] was a deep thinker and a beautiful writer who measured the value of ideas against [hir] own carefully considered conscience,” Media and Communication Studies Professor Dr. Louise Woodstock said.
Nic Sanderson, a junior and a close friend of Blunt’s, said Blunt took hir art beyond the classroom, often pursuing creative writing projects on hir Tumblr, challenging hirself to take on new musical instruments and sharing hir artwork with the world through the internet. Frase said Blunt’s illustrations were commissioned for a novel last year.
Dr. Beverly Redman, chair of the theater and dance department, said Blunt’s creative drive shined on stage.
“The first thought that comes to mind about Rachel is ‘brave,’” Redman said, noting that Blunt auditioned for [hir] first play at Ursinus as a freshman. “The project would have required some daring, even if one were a senior, because it was an all-woman production of ‘The Merchant of Venice.’”
Despite the fact Blunt was “pretty green” as an actor, Redman said xe earned the part of the male lead, Bassanio.
“During rehearsal, [xe] felt comfortable enough to share with us that [xe] felt [hirself] to be bisexual and that the project made [hir] feel at home here at Ursinus because it dealt openly with the diversity of gender and sexuality identities in our world,” Redman said.
Redman said Blunt continued to grow as both an actor developing hir craft and a person exploring hir identity when [xe] was cast as a feminist artist in a production of Maria Irene Fornes’ play, “Fefu and Friends.”
“Rachel had warmth in [hir] presence, a genuine sweetness that came through in [hir] performances,” Redman said. “That is what I will remember.”
Redman has been working with Blunt’s family to establish a memorial prize in hir name. Redman said the Rachel Blunt Memorial Prize will be given annually to a graduating senior that, like Blunt, showed “exceptional participation in our theater program.”
Professors said Blunt’s passion for creativity and openness about hir developing identity translated into sincere enthusiasm and consideration in the classroom.
“[Chell] read carefully and critically, and brought great ideas to class discussions. One of the things I admired most about hir was the way xe passionately and respectfully advocated for hir point of view,” Dr. Alice Leppert, professor of media and communication studies and film studies, said. “Xe was open, caring and friendly to hir fellow classmates, even in the midst of disagreements.”
“From the start, hir intense curiosity showed through bright as day. Xe sat front and center in class, eager to add hir thoughts to discussion, and just as eager to listen to others,” Dr. Tony Nadler, assistant professor of media and communication studies, said. “Chell was not only creative and sharp, but xe was kind. Xe was supportive and generous, with other students, and with me as hir instructor.”
Many of Blunt’s friends at Ursinus remarked on the same supportive generosity and hir inclination to befriend everyone, especially those who were different like [xe] was.
“[Xe] had a way of making friends with anyone [xe] met,” Brendan Howseman, a junior double major in theater and history, said.
Howseman recounted how Blunt, one of his first friends at Ursinus, simply started a conversation with him one day in Wismer at the beginning of his freshman year and made his adjustment to college much easier.
“Chell was, to me, someone who didn’t care what others thought about [hir], something I always admired,” Howseman said. “The world could use more people like [hir].”
“Chell had unconditional positive regard for other human beings,” Piper Rice, a junior and a close friend of Blunt’s, said. “Xe was accepting in a way that most people wouldn’t be.”
In her letter, Frase said she hopes that, while honoring Blunt’s life, those grieving [hir] loss can learn from this tragedy.
“To everyone who loved [hir], [xe] knew this. Do not feel that you didn’t do enough to tell [hir] or show [hir] because [xe] knew. [Hir] heart simply could not absorb the nutrients of that love. [Hir] brain chemistry could not enjoy the sensations of those feelings. But [xe] could certainly give it back to others,” Frase wrote. “Depression is a monstrous disease that steals our children, our brothers and sisters, our parents and our friends. If you know someone who is suffering, reach out in any way you can. Accept people who are different. Demand that we make our country’s mental health system stronger. Keep each other safe.”
At a Town Hall Meeting on March 13, student representatives from the USGA announced that Blunt’s artwork will be displayed at a student exhibition in the Berman later this semester. Fong said administrators are currently working with Blunt’s family to schedule an on-campus memorial in the coming months.
Fong spoke at a memorial service for Blunt in [hir] home-state of West Virginia.
“Chell was loved deeply, but [xe] could not always believe that others were better for [hir] love. … In [hir] depression, [xe] felt trapped like the mime in the invisible box, unable to feel happiness,” Fong said. “Yet, I’ve been told by Chell’s parents and friends that Ursinus was also the place of some of [hir] happiest times, when [xe] and [hir] friends were able to break through the invisible box so that despite [hir] struggles, [xe] did intermittently feel hope, and friendship, and sunlight on [hir] skin, and joy.”
Click here to view personal tributes to Rachel Blunt and to add your own on our Facebook page.