By Charlotte Rosenfield '15, Design Editor
It’s hard to deny the profound impact the Smeltzer family has had on the students of Pitzer, especially as the Smeltzer parents embraced and chatted with dozens of students before giving their presentation for the Andrea’s Voice Foundation last Wednesday.
Co-founders of the Andrea’s Voice Foundation Tom and Doris Smeltzer came to speak to the students of Claremont about Andrea Smeltzer, the Smeltzers’ youngest daughter and a former Pitzer student. While at Pitzer, Andrea was awarded the prestigious Fletcher Jones Scholarship, worked as a dorm hall Resident Assistant and Mentor, majored in International Business and Politics, and “looked forward to saving the world,” Doris said. During her first year at Pitzer, Andrea developed bulimia, an eating disorder characterized by binge eating and purging in order to lose, or simply maintain, weight. Doris explained that while they noticed many of Andrea’s first signs, which included a confession to purging over the phone, “We had no idea how serious Andrea’s case was.” On June 16, 1999, Andrea’s heart stopped and she passed away in her sleep from an electrolyte imbalance caused by her bulimia.
Since Andrea’s death, Tom and Doris have created various educational eating disorder prevention presentations, presenting at hundreds of universities, conferences and organizations nationwide and internationally. In early 2006, Tom and Doris founded the non-profit Andrea’s Voice Foundation to continue their outreach and to provide the organizational support of their mission.
The Smeltzers’ presentation, along with
educating the entire audience on the risk factors and symptoms of eating disorders, specifically outlined a clear spectrum of eating disorder severity. According to the Smeltzers’ presentation, “The continuum model asks not whether or not a person has a disease, but rather how much of it they have. Researchers present evidence that people who diet at a ‘normal’ level may become more severe dieters, who often progress to having partial symptoms. And a number of those diagnosed as partial go on to develop full-blown eating disorders.” Andrea made the progression from casual dieter to physically and emotionally “ill” in less than six months.
It’s difficult to imagine what Andrea must have felt throughout her struggle now that she is gone. Fortunately, during the last years of her life, Andrea wrote poems, journals and letters, preserving in her words a way for all of us to understand Andrea’s perspective on herself. Tom Smeltzer read some of Andrea’s words during the presentation. Through this recital of Tom’s daughter’s words, the audience heard her “voice.” We learned that Andrea “really wanted some one to want [her]” and felt that she needed “to be more disciplined about exercise.” By allowing Andrea’s words to explain herself and her struggle, Tom and Doris underscored the mental state of someone with an eating disorder, highlighting the severity of the symptoms their presentation had identified.
In her own words, and as Andrea’s life has ultimately made clear, “The journey is never so clear as the destination, and the telling is more confusing still.”