Campus grieves death of Arts & Sciences student Orli Sheffey, 19

Orli Sheffey is remembered by Washington University friends and faculty as a talented writer and caring friend. (Courtesy photo)

Orli Sheffey, a sophomore in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, died by suicide Friday, Feb. 11, 2022. She was 19.

A talented student, tenacious journalist and caring friend, Sheffey changed the lives of many members of the Washington University community, said Anna Gonzalez, vice chancellor for student affairs. 

“Orli’s engagement as a student leader, from being a student reporter to her keen interest in academics in political science and women and gender studies, her plans to study abroad next year, and her connections to Jewish communities, highlight only a few of the ways her light and authenticity touched us all,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez was among the estimated 1,000 students, staff and faculty members who gathered for a candlelight vigil Feb. 14 outside of the Women’s Building. Chancellor Andrew D. Martin helped open the ceremony, calling Sheffey a bright light. Orli means “my light” in Hebrew.

“To lose a daughter, a sister, a friend, a classmate, or, in my case, a student, is a grief that one never wants to imagine, nor can properly be imagined,” said Martin, who taught Sheffey in his course, “Free Speech on Campus.” “Her gift of composing her ideas into thoughtful and persuasive prose challenged us each to be better and do better.” 

Sheffey, of Highland Park, Ill., was a political science major and a member of the Phi Delta Phi legal honor society, Planned Parenthood Generation Action, College Democrats and WashU Votes. Sheffey also had served as a senior news writer for Student Life, where she covered the university’s response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Student Union and other important campus issues. In addition, Sheffey was training to be a member of Uncle Joe’s, the university’s confidential peer counseling service. 

People light candles during a vigil in memory of Sheffey in front of the Women’s Building. (Photo: Jin Park/Washington University)

Sheffey also was a loyal friend who loved late-night runs, cartwheels and M&Ms, student Julia Cleary, a sophomore in Arts & Sciences, told the crowd.

“In every aspect of Orli’s life, she cared for others,” Cleary said. “She was always one to check in on her friends and give a hug.” 

Olivia Danner, also a sophomore in Arts & Sciences, added that Sheffey both intellectually challenged and emotionally supported her wide circle of friends. 

“She was the type of person I could sit down with and suddenly we were talking about the intricacies of race within Judaism or gentrification in St. Louis,” Danner said. “She was the type of person who would spend all night working on a StudLife article because she desperately wanted to highlight injustices within our campus community and amplify the work of activists; someone who would take on extra work because she didn’t want others to feel stressed; someone who would text me good luck before every test.”

Donations may be made in her memory to Planned Parenthood and the ACLU.

Students who would like mental health support or supportive counseling are encouraged to contact Habif Health and Wellness Center or call 314-935-6695. TimelyCare physicians and counselors also are available to students 24/7. Learn more about TimelyCare and download the app. Faculty and staff may access the Employee Assistance Program