When Jaclyn Pryzbylkowski met Amber Ramsey on the first day of freshman year, she immediately thought, “This person is going to make a change.”
“She was just one of those people,” Pryzbylkowski, who graduated from the College in December, said.
A brilliant, independent and talented student, Ramsey entered the College in 2003 as a women’s and gender studies major.
Pryzbylkowski added that Ramsey struck her as someone “who would write a book or just be so socially active or speak out against oppression.”
Despite the potential Ramsey showed, she developed a drug addiction and was reported missing in February 2006, according to Trenton Police. Her body was found in Trenton on Aug. 1, 2006.
According to the Mercer County Medical Examiner Office, Ramsey died on approximately Dec. 29, 2005 of a “probable drug overdose.”
The Ramsey family was not notified about Amber’s death until March 2008.
“Everyone’s upset about how society treats junkies as nothing,” Pryzbylkowski said. “She was just forgotten.”
Jenna McBride, a senior at Tyler school of Art and Ramsey’s best friend from Ewing High School, said Ramsey always stood out. McBride and Ramsey met in fifth grade and became close friends in 10th grade when they had English together.
“She was unbelievably talented,” McBride said. “She could just choose any random thing and be good at it.”
McBride added that Ramsey started writing a book in high school and had an elaborate vocabulary, which sometimes made other people uncomfortable.
“Some people just didn’t get her,” McBride said. “People are boring and can’t handle a fun personality.”
Pryzbylkowski said Ramsey was an extraordinary writer and artist and was extremely passionate about women’s and gender studies.
Jessi Boston, who met Ramsey when she was a freshman at the College and Ramsey was a senior, said Ramsey was always creating.
“She was always writing or producing or making something,” she said.
Ramsey came to the College on a Bill Gates scholarship, which is awarded to outstanding minority students with financial need.
In addition to her talent and intelligence, Pryzbylkowski said Ramsey “just lived her life caring about other people and making a difference in their lives.”
“She would have talked to you without even knowing you,” she said.
Pryzbylkowski said Ramsey was not afraid of societal norms, adding that she was someone who was “breaking down all social barriers.”
“She always had an opinion about everything and wasn’t afraid to tell people her opinion,” she said.
Boston said she had a contagious personality.
“She was just a really strong inspiring person,” she said. “Everybody knew her on campus at one point.”
“She touched my life in a dramatic way,” Pryzbylkowski said.
“She wanted out”
McBride said she and Ramsey stayed in touch freshman year, but she noticed that Ramsey changed that summer.
“She definitely changed a lot,” she said. “She just seemed really kind of jaded.”
Pryzbylkowski said when Ramsey started using drugs, she wanted to get help but didn’t know where to go.
“She was battling things,” Pryzbylkowski said. “She wanted out of it so bad. She wanted the help.”
Pryzbylkowski said at times Ramsey was suicidal, but did not know where to go on campus.
“There’s not enough resources on campus,” she said. “In those times there’s nowhere to turn and I wish (the College) did promote that.”
According to Pryzbylkowski, drug use is not something talked about at the College.
“You never hear about drugs on campus,” she said.
Pryzbylkowski said Ramsey checked into several different rehab facilities.
“Drug addiction is such a hush-hush thing,” she said. “It’s really a major issue.”
Friends expressed anger at the Trenton Police for waiting so long to notify the Ramsey family.
“I don’t understand it,” McBride said. “I don’t think somebody forgot about it. I think there was an intentional mistake here.”
Boston said students started posting on Amber’s Myspace and Facebook pages “RIP Amber” after she went missing in 2006, but there was still no confirmation from the police.
“It made me very angry that we were all in the dark for so long about what happened,” she said.
Response from the College
Pryzbylkowski said she is unhappy with the response from the College.
“A dear member on our campus to a lot of people passed away,” she said. “Why hasn’t there been an e-mail about it?”
Matthew Golden, executive director of Public Affairs, said e-mails are only sent out in certain cases.
“We generally send out e-mails regarding losses in our community if it’s a current member of our community or retired staff,” he said.
Golden did say, however, that a memorial will be held with Ramsey’s family.
“Whenever we have the unfortunate occurrence of a student death we reach out to the family,” he said.
Pryzbylkowski said she has yet to see the effects on campus.
“There’s no recognition of it,” she said.
Pryzbylkowski said this summer she wants to look into starting a charity for young people struggling with drug addiction, while McBride said she would like to see a scholarship set up through the school in Ramsey’s name.
“For her to be remembered, that’s all I want,” Pryzbylkowski said. “She deserves to be recognized on campus and she is not.”
The most prevalent drug
Experts at the College have offered several different routes for students seeking help for friends with addictions.
They all agree, however, that the most prevalent drug used on campus is alcohol. Thus, most of the programming and education held by the College is largely targeted at alcohol use.
“Alcohol is the larger, greater challenge but that does not mean there isn’t … substance (abuse),” Joe Hadge, coordinator of the Alcohol and Drug Education Program (ADEP), said. “The vast majority of issues are alcohol-based.”
Hadge said that during a Core Survey conducted in 2006, 86 percent of students said they would prefer not to have drugs available at parties they attend.
The survey showed that 9 percent of students said they had used an illegal drug other than marijuana in the past year.
Hadge said about 20 percent of students don’t drink at all. In the survey, 85 percent of students said they had consumed alcohol in the past year.
Larry Gage, associate director of Psychological Counseling Services (PCS), said that although alcohol and nicotine are much more common problems, drug use has a stigma surrounding it.
“There’s a little bit of hysteria when it comes to heroine and cocaine,” he said.
He added that when planning programming and education on campus, PCS tries to plan according to the numbers, not the hysteria.
“We try to have perspective,” he said. “(We try) to be balanced with the information provided.”
Hadge agreed that there is a stigma surrounding drug use.
“One of the most important things we have to get around is the stigma,” he said. “I still think it’s out there.”
Increasing trends of drug use
Despite the prevalence of alcohol, Hadge and Gage admitted increasing trends of drug use on campus.
Gage said in the past year or so abuse of prescription drugs has increased. He mentioned drugs like Vicodin, Adderall, Ritalin and Xanax, drugs usually used to treat attention deficit disorder, as alternates for caffeine that students sometimes use.
He said marijuana use is a growing problem as well.
“We have seen pot interfere with a lot of people’s lives,” Gage said. “It’s come as a greater concern to us lately.”
Gage estimated that about 15 percent of cases dealt with in PCS include drug use of some kind.
According to Gage, in a highly competitive environment like the College, students sometimes create more pressure for themselves. He also said alcohol and drug use among students is usually connected to something else going on in the student’s life.
Gage said PCS counselors try to “look at the bigger picture” when students identify their drug problems.
Hadge said drug use on college campuses is not uncommon.
“You have addiction on top of a college culture,” he said. “It’s not something that’s a phenomenon.”
Hadge said students should go to ADEP or use PCS as a resource.
To receive counseling students must fill out a counseling request form.
Gage said that at the beginning of the semester students will receive a prompt response. At this point in the semester, he said, there are about 15 students waiting for their first appointments.
“It’s a couple of weeks before we can see somebody,” he said.
Hadge said ADEP is focused on education, prevention and training, specifically teaching students how to recognize a problem.
Another resource for students is the Clinic, located in Forcina Hall. Hadge said the Clinic is geared toward the Mercer County community and is not a typical resource most colleges have.
According to its Web site, “The Clinic is an outpatient center that offers supervised counseling and family therapy serving Mercer County and surrounding communities.”
If a student does not check him or herself into counseling, a friend or significant other might reach out to Friends Helping Friends, a program in which friends are taught how to approach the situation and reach out to someone with a drug abuse problem, Gage said.
He said this is more common than drug addicts requesting self-help.
“It’s rare that someone will come in and say ‘I have a drug problem. I need to quit,'” he said.
Helping Others by Providing Encouragement (HOPE) is another resource for students seeking support with substance abuse issues, according to Mark Woodford, chair of the department of Counselor Education and chair of the Commission on the Prevention of Alcohol Abuse.
“This program (is) an essential piece to help students who are in recovery from addiction, as well (as) those who may need support in deciding if recovery is for them,” Woodford said.
He said a student mentor from HOPE can speak with students who think they need help or students who identify friends as having drug or alcohol problems. Woodford said the mentor would help connect students with support groups or counseling.
Hadge said the key aspects to combating drug use are education, treatment and enforcement.
Gage encouraged students to speak up if they think a friend might have a drug problem. He said ideally, everyone would feel comfortable raising the alarm and seeking help.
“Each and every member of the campus community can be a resource for one another,” he said. “It’s a message that takes an entire community.”
Pryzbylkowski said she wished Ramsey had the help she needed.
“It could have been so different if she had the proper help,” Pryzbylkowski said. “She wanted so much to get out of this.”