BHSU mourns loss of Student Senate President Brittany Thompson

After a courageous and unwavering fight against cancer, Brittany Thompson of Spearfish, Black Hills State University Student Senate President, passed away Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017 at the age of 22. Brittany was a respected campus leader and strong advocate for students. A memorial service to celebrate the life of Brittany Thompson will be held Monday, Jan. 30 at 10:30 am at BHSU in the Donald E. Young Center. Fidler-Isburg of Spearfish is assisting with the arrangements.

Left, Dr. Jane Klug, dean of students at BHSU, presents Brittany Thompson with the Outstanding Student Leader Award last spring.

Determined, bold, tenacious- that's how Brittany Thompson's friends and mentors describe the Black Hills State University Student Senate President who passed away Tuesday after a courageous and unwavering fight against cancer.

Brittany, a psychology and political science major from Spearfish, enrolled at BHSU in the fall of 2013 and was immediately involved in Student Senate and the Debate Team. Her tenacious spirit and passion for social justice challenged university policies and procedures, on campus and at the state level. Throughout her interactions with students, faculty, administrators, she was professional, respectful and honest. In the fall of 2014, Brittany began an initiative to establish a restorative justice program for students.

Just months after her diagnosis of Ewing's sarcoma, an aggressive form of cancer, Brittany ran for and was voted in March of 2016 as BHSU Student Senate President. Dr. Tom Jackson, Jr., BHSU President, said Brittany's vision and leadership was an inspiration to the BHSU community.

"We are greatly saddened at the loss of Brittany Thompson, BHSU Student Senate President. Brittany was a wonderful person and a tremendous leader who had a great impact on campus in the three years she was a student here. Our hearts are heavy, the campus is grieving but we know Brittany's legacy will carry on. Her classmates, friends, faculty, and staff members are sharing memories. Through her work as a student leader, Brittany inspired not only students but also faculty and staff members. She was truly an outstanding person who will not be forgotten," said Jackson.

Justin Logue, psychology and political science major from Volin, was Brittany's running mate for Student Senate. He said when Brittany first approached him to run for the Senate's leadership, he was hesitant but finally agreed.

"I knew if I wanted to run with anyone it would be Brittany," said Logue. "She was goal-oriented, knew what she wanted, and was always an advocate to students and for students to our administration, at the state level, and the Board of Regents."

In addition to her leadership with Student Senate, Brittany also served as President of Philosophy Club. The Club won a programming award last spring for a gun control debate held on campus. Brittany was a founding and executive member of the Jacket Pack, a group that encouraged school spirit and pride on campus. She was also named Outstanding Student Leader last spring. In 2015 Brittany placed in the top 20 at the Pi Kappa Delta National Debate Tournament, her first time competing in the individual debate category. She also interned with the Pennington County Public Defender's Office and worked as a Legislative Page.

Behind the scenes, Brittany was battling cancer while serving as Student Senate President and creating change that will impact BHSU and other universities for years to come by creating the Diversion Program at BHSU. Her fight with cancer didn't prevent her from actively participating and advancing her goals.

Students and faculty at BHSU recall how Brittany ran and attended meetings from her hospital bed last semester. While undergoing chemo treatments she worked with the state's attorney. She Skyped-in from her hospital bed to listen to each student's presentation during General Activity Fee Allocation Committee hearings.

"She was a warrior and fighter, not just with her personal health but for our students and their rights," said Klug. "She challenged me, she made me a better advisor. She reminded me that each student is different and my style has to adapt and change with each student I meet."

In 2014 as a student senator representing the College of Liberal Arts, Brittany first introduced her idea for the Diversion Program at BHSU. Brittany was involved as a volunteer with teen court in high school. She knew a similar program at the college level could greatly impact students whose first legal infraction would impact their ability to achieve their educational goals.

The idea for a Diversion Program was not immediately enacted upon. With her trademark determination, Brittany again presented the idea to Student Senate in 2015. Support for the Program was confirmed and Brittany moved forward as head of the Diversion Committee.

"She led with tenacity and every single meeting she said what she expected of us. Brittany always strived to do what she was passionate about and what was best for students," said Logue.

Dr. Jane Klug, dean of students at BHSU, said 17 students completed the Diversion Program at BHSU last semester thanks to Brittany's vision.

"These are 17 students who chose a different path. They completed more than 100 hours of community service last semester. They took ownership and accountability," said Klug. "Brittany understood policies and procedures, and the law. She studied how systems worked so she could figure out how to make them better for others."

After hearing about Brittany's cancer diagnosis, BHSU students from the clubs and organizations she was involved with banded together to raise funds to offset her medical costs.

Michaela Stroup, a BHSU alum and Brittany's former roommate, said the group called "Brittany's Bunch" set up multiple fundraisers for support.

"We wanted to raise funds so Brittany didn't have to worry about that part, but also so she could see how many people she impacted and that we believed in her," said Stroup.

The group created bracelets so Brittany could physically see the support each day on one side the bracelets said "Brittany's Bunch," on the other "Together she can."

"Brittany was very bold. She taught me to stand up for myself and she wanted everyone around her to be the best person they could be," said Stroup. "She taught me how to advocate for others and make sure others are being treated well. She had no fear in calling others out if their actions negatively affected others."

Brittany passed away Tuesday, Jan. 24. The Diversion Program she fought for and created will now be called the Thompson Diversion Program in Brittany's memory.

"She strived to do what she was passionate about and what was best for students," said Logue. "She would want students to find their passion, continue on, and to get involved on campus, that was something very important to Brittany."

Students will gather Thursday, Jan. 26 at 4 p.m. in Club Buzz on campus for a candlelight vigil in honor of Brittany. A memorial service to celebrate her life will be held Monday, Jan. 30 at 10:30 am at BHSU in the Donald E. Young Center. Fidler-Isburg of Spearfish is assisting with the arrangements.