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Support group offers comfort to Aggies affected by El Paso shooting

Aggies are not alone when it comes to dealing with the El Paso shooting. The Aggie Health and Wellness Center is working to ensure its community has the support it needs in coping with the effects of the events that occurred Aug. 3 in El Paso, Texas.

The memorial for victims of the El Paso shooting appears larger than ever Sunday, Sept. 8. Community members, including loved ones and friends of the victims, continue to add candles, flowers, flags and other mementos to the memorial site, which is located just behind the Walmart store where last month’s deadly mass shooting claimed the lives of 22 people and injured dozens more. (Photo by Olivia Belcher/Kokopelli)

The counseling staff is providing a support group where any member of the NMSU community can come and participate. The next group session is today, Sept. 10, from 3–4:30 p.m. at the Corbett Center Student Union, Rio Grande Room 228. The group is open to both English and Spanish speakers, so all attendees may express their thoughts and feelings comfortably.

Marie Zubiate is a counselor at the Aggie Health and Wellness Center and one of the facilitators of the support group. She, along with other counselors, found that many students were struggling with the shock of the El Paso shooting, which led her and her colleagues to form the support group.

“Students were impacted on different levels and to different extremes. We wanted to create a space where students can see that they are not alone in those thoughts and in those feelings,” Zubiate said.

Feelings of shock regarding what happened and why it happened are the most common feelings students are sharing. “Consistently students tend to relate a shock factor to what happened because El Paso tends to be in a bubble that we thought was a safe bubble. For someone to come from the outside and intrude [on] that bubble is extremely shocking,” Zubiate said.

“I am a lot more scared about what would happen if I go anywhere … It’s different now. I think twice about going anywhere.”

Victoria Balderrama, a journalism major at NMSU, was in JC Penney at Cielo Vista Mall when the shooting took place at the Walmart just next door. She was not aware of what was going on while she was still in the mall due to a lack of cellphone service and mixed stories coming from those around her. “I was just thinking off of instinct and I was thinking the worst,” Balderrama said.

It wasn’t until Balderrama got home and looked at her social media that the events of the day began to hit her. “At that point I just started to cry, because as I was sitting at JC Penney people were right there at Walmart getting shot,” Balderrama said.

Now that it has been a month since the El Paso shooting, Balderrama notices a difference in the way she thinks. “I am a lot more scared about what would happen if I go anywhere. If you leave your house anything can happen to you. It’s different now. I think twice about going anywhere,” she said.

Balderrama found that the way El Paso reacted and supported each other through comfort and prayers helped her cope with the shock. “The whole El Paso Strong thing, it’s just a phrase, but it is so empowering. It overshadowed all the evil,” Balderrama said.

Upon learning about the support group being provided, she shared how she thought attending one would impact her. “I feel like there is a stigma with going to support groups that you’re not strong or tough. Even though I wasn’t directly impacted, it’s important to talk about how you’re feeling” Balderrama said.

Myra Rommes, a journalism and CMI double major at NMSU and an El Paso native, has personally experienced a support group and what they can offer. “Support groups are super helpful for a lot of reasons, mostly because they allow for people to see other sides of trauma rather than just living in their own,” Rommes said.

Those who attend the support group are not required to speak if they do not wish to do so. Zubiate provides sticky notes that can be used to ask a question or make a topic suggestion anonymously for those who do not want to speak publicly.

Other support groups for different topics of concern are provided throughout the semester once the need and a willingness for participation are identified by the counseling staff. Details regarding those groups will be announced later on in the semester.

For questions about the El Paso shooting support group, contact the Aggie Health and Wellness Center or email Marie Zubiate at mariez@nmsu.edu.

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