GV administration and community mourns Brendan Santo


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Elizabeth Schanz, Staff Writer

Grand Valley State University freshman, Brendan Santo, was reported missing on Oct. 29, 2021 while visiting friends at Michigan State University. 

On Nov. 12, 2021, GVSU President Philomena Mantella sent her first email to the student body about Santo’s disappearance, about two weeks after Santo was first reported missing. 

The nearly three-month search recently concluded on Jan. 21, 2022 when Santo’s body was found in the Red Cedar River. 

The same day Santo’s body was recovered, Mantella issued a statement through email to the GVSU community.

The extent to which GVSU addressed the search for Brendan Santo has been met with some scrutiny from students. 

When Santo’s body was recovered, presidents from both GVSU and MSU sent emails to their respective communities which were later circulated in Facebook groups in comparison to one another. 

Some perceived MSU’s email from President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. as more heartfelt and genuine even though Santo was not their own student, leading to some frustration from the GVSU community.

Stanley’s email read, “While today may bring closure to such a tragic incident, our hearts ache for the Santo family.” 

Mantella’s email stated, “The death of any student in our community is painful and distressing.” 

Despite this frustration, GVSU has continued to navigate the next steps for the community in the wake of the recovery of Santo’s body. 

GVSU’s acting dean of students, Aaron Haight, has emphasized multiple resources available to help students navigate this difficult time. 

Such programs include the GVSU counseling center, CARE referrals (which are a part of the division of student affairs) and outreach from GVSU housing and residence life staff to students. 

CARE referrals allow students who are in need of support to reach out, or have the opportunity to anonymously report individuals they are concerned about. Once a referral is submitted, GVSU will personally reach out and offer resources to these students.

Many individuals, including Santo’s friends, have received recommendations for therapy sessions and what steps to take going forward. 

“We received a phone call from our living center director after he went missing asking us to go to group therapy,”  freshman Rosie Cudnik said. “We were reached out to as a general Holton-Hooker (living center) group and then also our RA reached out to us specifically. Nothing was done in particular for his friends, like all of us got the same thing, and if you didn’t live in Holton-Hooker and you were his friend, they did not receive anything (individually).”

However, Haight said the student affairs office contacted Santo’s professors, roommates and friends “to offer support and guidance.”

“It’s also important to note that President Mantella and I were in contact with the Santo family to offer support and condolences as well,” Haight said. 

Regardless of disappointment that some GVSU community members expressed in the handling of the situation, the loss of Santo deeply affects the GVSU community and those who knew him personally.

Santo was a cyber security major in his first year at GVSU and, throughout his life, played hockey and lacrosse. 

Friends said Santo loved animals. In light of this, Santo’s family recently donated $10,000 in their son’s memory to Oxford High School to help them obtain therapy dogs for students after the recent school shooting in Nov. 2021.

Santo’s friends attest that he was a selfless and caring person.

Cudnik and freshman Abbe Radzinski lived across the hall from him in their dorm and became close friends with him.

“Brendan was our first college friend,” Cudnik said. He made everything fun. He was super giving and he never asked for anything in return.”

The two said he would do “anything for anyone” and would constantly go out of his way to help others. 

Radzinski noted from many of her personal experiences with Santo that he was “the definition of random acts of kindness.”

“I could just mention that I was hungry, and the next thing I know, there’s a cheese quesadilla on my lap,” Radzinski said. “Brendan was and still is everything good that there is in this world.”

Santo’s friends, family and community look to these memories in this time of grief. 

“I know Brendan wouldn’t want us to be sad forever,” Radinski said. “I know it hurts so badly right now, but it will get better. Someday we will think back on our memories with him and it won’t hurt as bad.”