Courtesy of Pamela Shaw

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a hotline for individuals in crisis or for those looking to help someone else. To speak with a certified listener, call 1-800-273-8255.

Crisis Text Line is a texting service for emotional crisis support. To speak with a trained listener, text HELLO to 741741. It is free, available 24/7 and confidential.

Careline (carelinealaska.com) is a statewide hotline available 24/7 at 1-877-266-4357 (HELP) and staffed by Alaskans for Alaskans.

To talk with a counselor from Yale Mental Health and Counseling, schedule a session here and also here. On-call counselors are available at any time: call (203) 432-0290. 

The Chaplain’s Office staff are also available: schedule an appointment here, write directly to any of the staff or call (203) 432-1128 during business hours. Walden Peer Counseling is available from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. every night. To speak with a trained peer counselor, call (203) 432-8255. To speak with Dr. Eunice Yuen from the Asian American Cultural Center, schedule an appointment here. Good Life Center Woodbridge Fellow Alex Vaghenas offers 30-minute non-clinical wellness chats to support students in coping with stress and anxiety, and to hear about whatever else is on their mind. Email alexa.vaghenas@yale.edu to schedule a one-time session or a recurring time to chat.

Additional resources are available in a guide compiled by the Yale College Council here.

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Rachael Shaw-Rosenbaum ’24, a first-year student in Branford College, recently died by suicide at the age of 18. She is remembered by friends, family and teachers for her kindness, wit, musical talent and willingness to take on challenges.

Born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska, Shaw-Rosenbaum was involved in a range of music, debate and community organizations in high school and participated in the Directed Studies program at Yale. She dreamt of studying constitutional law and eventually sitting on the Supreme Court, like her idol, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She adored her poodle Teddy, short for Theodore Teddy Roosevelt Shaw, and became a vegetarian due to her love of animals.

“She’s all about seeking justice, finding fairness and justice in so many avenues,” said her mother, Pamela Shaw. More than two dozen of Shaw-Rosenbaum’s family members, friends and community members shared with the News the ways she touched their lives, from Alaska to Connecticut.

“She accepted people, for certain — never, never, never judgmental of anybody,” said her aunt, Bev Harper. “When she’d get excited, she’d speak faster and faster … When she was serious, she wanted to be taken seriously. And she was very silly too.”

Shaw-Rosenbaum loved to read — so much so that as a preschooler, she would keep her mom awake until 11 p.m. demanding just one more story before bedtime. She would become a storyteller herself, from daycare monologues to improv shows to made-up backstories about Walgreens customers from her summer job as a cashier. 

Her childhood friend Matthew Park ’24, who attended the same schools as Shaw-Rosenbaum from elementary school to college, described her as a courageous advocate for meaningful causes. Park recalled a memory of winning second place at a mock trial competition alongside Shaw-Rosenbaum.

“Outside of the heated rounds, our team spent time in a cramped storage closet engaging in random discussions and playing games,” Park told the News. “That day, I lost to Rachael in a hard-fought match of arm-wrestling, and I’m sure that if Rachael was still with us, we would be joking about it today on Cross Campus.”

Growing up in Anchorage

At West Anchorage High School, Shaw-Rosenbaum enjoyed studying math and chemistry and maintained close bonds with her teachers even as she navigated a large campus and outside activities. She participated in a drama, debate and forensics extracurricular program — which according to her mother was her “favorite activity by far.” 

“She was incredibly passionate and enthusiastic, a very talented speaker, and always patient and helpful while mentoring other students,” her high school debate partner, Olivia Tafs, wrote to the News. “Rachael taught me so much about strength, resilience,and being yourself, and I know I’m a better person for having met her.”

Shaw-Rosenbaum’s debate skills earned her several awards, according to her principal, Sven Gustafson. Her mother shared that she was particularly talented at extemporaneous speech. 

Shaw-Rosenbaum also attended Sitka’s Fine Arts Camp — a nationally-recognized youth arts and education summer program in Sitka, Alaska — for five years. SFAC is a network partner of the Alaska Afterschool Network, a statewide organization dedicated to increasing after school learning opportunities for school-age youth and families.

“Rachael was an incredibly smart, ambitious, energetic, life-loving person. She was the kind of person who loved to feel like making a difference,” said Thomas Azzarella, the program’s director. “I know a lot of people say this but Rachael was one of those people who could actually change the world.”

Shaw-Rosenbaum interned for the organization in 2019 and reflected on her time at the camp and as an advocate for afterschool programs in a blog post.

“Just last week in Sitka, I was unexpectedly thrust into my first attempt at improvised stand-up comedy during an ‘art share,’ a casual nightly event in which students and faculty take to the stage to showcase their creative expression,” Shaw-Rosenbaum’s post reads. “But in the open, supportive atmosphere of SFAC, I found the impulsive courage to raise my hand high, stand under the spotlight, and make a memory.” 

Kenley Jackson and Zeke Blackwell ’13 — the SFAC’s program director and theater director, respectively — said that the camp community will miss Shaw-Rosenbaum’s presence and personality.

“Rachael Shaw-Rosenbaum came to Sitka Fine Arts Camp for the first time in middle school with a keen intellectual and artistic curiosity that only intensified as she got older,” Jackson wrote in an email to the News. “She was a brilliant violist and also loved theater, experimenting with Shakespeare, improv, and stage makeup.”

Shaw-Rosenbaum also served in the Anchorage Youth Court, or AYC, a diversionary program in which local youth take on roles as attorneys, judges and jurors to judge local youth accused of breaking the law. She joined in the sixth grade as the program’s youngest member — a year before students are normally eligible.

According to Denise Wike and Irene Tresser, the Legal Advisor and Director for AYC respectively, Shaw-Rosenbaum volunteered over 300 hours to serve as a prosecutor, defense attorney and judge for sentencing hearings for juveniles charged with crimes. She also served on the board of directors for five years.

Shaw-Rosenbaum, right, holding a Golden Gavel, an award given to the student of the Anchorage Youth Court with the highest score on the organization’s youth bar exam. She won the award in 2014. (Photo: Courtesy of Denise Wike)

Alongside former AYC Executive Director Rebecca Koford, Shaw-Rosenbaum started a summer leadership program in 2018 to mentor and teach low-income youth about the law.

“[Shaw-Rosenbaum was] quietly sassy,” Koford said. “She was very insightful about other people and very empathic but also pretty quiet unless you got to know her well. She knew who she was and she was a strong person.”

A love of music

Shaw-Rosenbaum was not drawn to music as a young child. In kindergarten, she rejected her mother’s suggestions of playing piano or violin. But when she listened to older students talk about their instruments as part of a sixth grade music requirement, she came home eager to learn the viola.

“I think it was a passion,” said Karyn Grove-Bruce, who taught Shaw-Rosenbaum throughout high school. “The fact that she kept doing it, despite being so busy, tells me that it really was something that she really enjoyed. And you could tell by the way she played.”

Her favorite piece, Grove-Bruce told the News, was Johann Sebastian Bach’s Sonata No. 3.

Shaw-Rosenbaum played in the “Alaska Youth Orchestras, home of the Anchorage Youth Symphony,” where she served as principal violist, in addition to sitting on the performing board of directors for two years. She participated in the Anchorage Chamber Music Festival for three summers, and even performed at Grove-Bruce’s daughter’s wedding with her viola quartet.

“We adored Rachael,” said AYO Executive Director Denise Brown-Chylook. “She is what organizations would love to have in a student participant. Very, very advocacy and justice-minded, very goal oriented, a hard worker — and a fantastic violist. She was skilled.”

“I remember her confidence and can-do attitude,” Will Lacy, the AYO’s acting Board Members and Performing Boards Sponsor at the time, wrote in an email. “She was always booming with ideas and possessed a maturity well above her peers.”

Nathaniel Pierce, the Anchorage Chamber Music Festival’s co-Director, said he was proud to hear that Shaw-Rosenbaum went to Yale. Her acceptance came as no surprise, he said; she was an ambitious, witty and strong-minded student.

Shaw-Rosenbaum, pictured third from the right, plays Felix Mendelssohn’s String Octet with a group of students at the Anchorage Chamber Music Festival in August 2017. (Photo: Courtesy of festival co-Directors Nathaniel Pierce and Christine Harda-Li)

Her time at Yale 

At Yale, Shaw-Rosenbaum developed a passion for ethics and philosophy — one that she explored through Directed Studies, an intensive program for first-year students studying texts from Western civilizations.

Four of her DS professors characterized Shaw-Rosenbaum as quick-thinking and highly engaged. She was especially imaginative, sometimes including memes in her essays.

“She wrote a couple of smart and witty essays about the role of popular consent in Niccolò Machiavelli’s Prince and the imaginary ‘state of nature’ in the work of Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau,” wrote Terence Renaud, Shaw-Rosenbaum’s DS Philosophy professor for this semester.

Shaw-Rosenbaum also found time to continue pursuing her passion for music. She took Music 115, “The Mathematics of Music,” in the spring 2021 semester. 

“Eureka!” she wrote in a message to the professor, Richard Cohn, about a problem set. “I think I figured it out!” Shaw-Rosenbaum constantly asked about problem sets, attended office hours and spoke up in lectures, despite never having met her 40 peers in person. 

“Everything was processed in her own way, idiosyncratically but with deep understanding,” Cohn told the News. “From the standpoint of a classical musician, no one is better to set up to have a deep, rich, interesting life than someone who can play the inner parts of a Brahms quintet.”

Outside of the classroom, Shaw-Rosenbaum participated in the Jones-Zimmerman Academic Mentorship Program, which connects middle school students to Yale undergraduate mentors. James Mullins ’23, who worked with her in the program, said she was passionate about education and excited to begin work with students in New Haven Public Schools.

Her friends fondly remember their nightly FroCo-group dinners, casual conversations about classes and Karaoke nights, where Shaw-Rosenbaum rapped Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow” without missing a beat.

They shared their love for her in statements provided by their first-year counselor, Alvin Winston, II ’21, who told the News that Shaw-Rosenbaum had “a meaningful and profound impact in my life and those who surrounded her.”

“She managed to make me laugh with all her pun-filled jokes and one-liners,” said Stephanie Owusu ’24. “She was a light on what was otherwise a stressful day.”

“Yale has no shortage of intelligence, but Rachael was genuinely the most brilliant person I’ve ever met,” said Victoria Chung ’24. “What struck me the most about her was how she was unapologetically herself and her unrelenting passion for the things she loved.”

“[Rachael] made me smile,” said Theo Haaks ’24.

There were two gatherings for Shaw-Rosenbaum on Tuesday: one for members of Branford College and another open to members of the Yale College community.  

Mackenzie Hawkins contributed reporting.

Natalie Kainz | natalie.kainz@yale.edu

Zaporah Price | zaporah.price@yale.edu

***

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a hotline for individuals in crisis or for those looking to help someone else. To speak with a certified listener, call 1-800-273-8255.

Crisis Text Line is a texting service for emotional crisis support. To speak with a trained listener, text HELLO to 741741. It is free, available 24/7 and confidential.

Careline (carelinealaska.com) is a statewide hotline available at 1-877-266-4357 (HELP) and staffed by Alaskans for Alaskans from 6 to 11 p.m. weekdays, and overnights on Friday and Saturday. During other hours, calls are automatically referred to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255.

To talk with a counselor from Yale Mental Health and Counseling, schedule a session here and also here. On-call counselors are available at any time: call (203) 432-0290. 

Correction, March 24: Shaw-Rosenbaum was enrolled in Music 115 in spring 2021, not spring 2020. The story has been updated.

Correction, March 30: A previous version of the article stated that Careline had limited hours of operation. In fact, it is open 24/7, 365 days a year.