The Ithaca College community gathered to honor the life of Sue-Je Gage, associate professor in the Department of Anthropology, who died unexpectedly May 10.
The Office of Religious and Spiritual Life hosted a virtual memorial service over Zoom on May 13 for staff, faculty, students, alumni and those who knew Gage. Over 400 people attended Gage’s memorial, President Shirley M. Collado said.
Hierald Osorto, director of religious and spiritual life, said that although the COVID-19 pandemic has separated the campus community during its time of grieving, the campus community can still feel the love that Gage radiated.
“This pandemic is forcing us to become creative in the ways that we come together, in the ways that we grieve, in the ways that we say goodbye,” Osorto said. “If you’ve gathered in the space that I’m now, the Muller Chapel, you’ve also heard me say that here you can hear this community’s heartbeat. Even in our social distancing today, I can hear this community’s heartbeat, gathered from across the country.”
Gage worked at the college for 12 years. She was an affiliated faculty member in the Center for the Study of Culture, Race and Ethnicity (CSCRE) and the Women’s and Gender Studies program. Gage worked with Collado as a member of the inaugural cohort of President’s Fellows in the 2018–19 academic year, served on the School of Humanities and Sciences Dean’s Advisory Council and participated in the Ithaca Firsts Mentor Program. In 2019, Gage participated in the HERS Institute, a leadership development program that supports women in higher education.
“Sue-Je was so modest in her ways, but she was a force of nature,” Collado said. “She was so understated, yet has this enormous power in the world.”
La Jerne Cornish, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, spoke about how much she enjoyed working with Gage, who was a faculty advocate in the Office of the Provost.
“Rest easy, dear one,” she said. “Thank you for walking in your own radiant light. Those of us who were blessed to call you professor, colleague, mentor and friend are better because you were here. We will miss you forever.”
Melanie Stein, dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences, and David Turkon, associate professor in the Department of Anthropology, shared their memories of Gage and how she impacted them.
Stein said that when she first met Gage, she was feeling overwhelmed with her new job, but Gage made her feel welcome and at home at the college. Turkon said his and Gage’s offices were next to each other, and she would often leave gifts in his mailbox for him.
The Department of Anthropology created a website for those who knew Gage to share their memories of her.
Belisa González, associate professor in the Department of Sociology and director of CSCRE, said that without being able to gather with others to mourn, the loss of Gage has felt unbearable for her.
“My words fail me to describe the connection she brought to the world,” González said. “One of the words that keeps coming up is ‘kind.’ … I think we confuse kind and nice. Sue-Je wasn’t nice. Nice is bringing you a cup of tea. Kind is remembering that your favorite tea is chamomile, and showing up in your office with a box of it because she knows you’re stressed.”
Walt Martzen ’19, one of Gage’s former students, said that Gage was a mentor to him and that she helped students of color and LGBT students feel like they could achieve their dreams.
“There are so many conversations I still want to have with you, Sue-Je, that I want to have with the professor who is mixed Asian and white like me, which I’d never seen before, who helped me feel like my experiences were real,” Martzen said.
He said when he finishes his senior research project, which she helped him with and even offered to co-author it when it is published, he will dedicate it to her.
Senior Calissa Brown, one of Gage’s students, said that Gage made the college feel like home to her the first time they met. She said that she considers Gage’s family part of hers.
“It’s been hard getting through finals,” Brown said. “But I just keep repeating what you told me in the past: ‘It’s almost over. There’s only one week left. You’ve got this.’ So whether I walk across the stage in August or in May 2021, I know you’ll be there, smiling with your wonderful smile and laughing with your infectious laugh.”
Elizabeth Simkin, associate professor in the Department of Performance Studies, then played a piece by Arvo Pärt on the cello while attendees shared memories and stories about Gage in the chat box on Zoom. Osorto lit vigil candles in the Muller Chapel in Gage’s honor.
Gage’s mother, Myong Land, said she is humbled by how many people loved her daughter.
Sue-Je Gage’s sister, Serina Gage, said that hearing all the happy memories of Sue-Je Gage helped her family during their grieving period.
“It’s not the day we’re born, it’s not the day we expire from our bodies, but it’s the life in between that matters,” she said. “Sue-Je had a lot of life in between that obviously mattered, … and her light is always with everyone.”
Paula Ioanide, associate professor in CSCRE, created a fundraiser on GoFundMe to offset funeral and travel expenses and to support Gage’s family. Over half of the goal of $25,000 has been donated within two days of the fundraiser starting.
Support services for all members of the campus community are available at any time through the Center for Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) by calling 607-274-3136. Faculty and staff can access the counseling services of the Employee Assistance Program by calling 1-800-327-2255.