Ryan and Ashley Week 2021 Recap
By: Sarah Pfeiffer
We live our dash to honor theirs.
These were the words that echoed in our hearts and minds throughout this emotional, impactful Ryan and Ashley Week 2021. Over the course of the week, IUDM put on several events, some virtual and some socially distanced in-person, to share the legacies of Ryan White and Ashley Louise Crouse.
We started off Monday by “Remembering Ryan” and the lasting impression he made on the people around him. Ryan White was born in 1971, and contracted AIDS at a young age following a blood transfusion. Despite countless obstacles and discrimination due to the stigma surrounding his condition, Ryan became a nationally recognized voice for all those suffering from AIDS. His courage paved the way for new legislation supporting those with AIDS, the reduction of that stigma, the Ryan White Center for Infectious Diseases, and IU Dance Marathon as a whole. Ryan passed away when he was 18 years old, shortly before he was set to attend Indiana University as a freshman. His legacy, however, lived on through the creation of IUDM, which was founded by his friend Jill in 1991.
Ryan’s endless positivity and bravery caught the attention of some big names in popular culture, one of those being Elton John. Elton deeply respected and was inspired by Ryan’s advocacy for those with AIDS. They developed a very special friendship over the years, even up to the point of Elton being at Ryan’s side when he passed. On Monday night, we learned more about this friendship at a tribute concert from Hank Ruff and the Hellbenders, featuring several Elton John covers and a reading of Elton’s open letter to Ryan, 20 years after his passing. This was the first ever Ryan and Ashley Week concert put on by IUDM! There was a small number of in-person attendees that came to Dunn Meadow in socially distanced pods, as well as a larger virtual audience that watched a livestream of the concert.
Tuesday followed with “All About Ashley”, where we spent the day learning about Ashley Louise Crouse and the kindness she showed to the whole IU community. Ashley was the Vice President of Communications for IUDM in 2005. She was described by all who knew her as caring, selfless, passionate— an Angel Among Us. Ashley was dedicated to others in such a way that she aimed to make everyone feel special, no matter what. One night, after leaving an IUDM Executive Council meeting, Ashley tragically passed away in a car accident. But just like Ryan, her legacy continues on, and inspires everyone to embrace kindness just like she did. On Tuesday, IUDM social media accounts posted a checklist of random acts of kindness, encouraging us all to #livelikeAsh in our daily lives.
On Wednesday, we continued to celebrate Ashley’s legacy and reflect her love and kindness with “A Legacy Alive.” Some of Ashley’s most impactful words were, “For every person you meet, imagine they are wearing a necklace that says: ‘do what you can to make me feel special.’” Taking this sentiment to heart, the IUDM Instagram account posted a “pass the necklace” challenge, allowing the IUDM community to recognize those among us that embody Ryan and Ashley’s legacies. The post garnered over 1.6 thousand comments throughout the week, serving as a constant reminder of the love that can be spread through small acts of kindness and the importance of doing anything you can to make those around you feel special.
The closing event of Ryan and Ashley Week took place Thursday through Sunday: the Angels Among Us Walk. This walk through IU’s campus honored Ryan White, Ashley Louise Crouse, Jacob Schleinz, Vincent Buckner Jr. and all the Angels Among Us that we dance for within IUDM. The route started at the arboretum, went up Fee Lane, right on 17th Street (Ashley’s hill), then down Jordan back to the starting point. Participants signed up for time slots on one of the four days to walk in groups of up to five. Along the way, fliers were posted with stories and quotes about Ryan, Ashley, and the rest of the Angels.
There were laughs and tears alike, but most importantly, Ryan and Ashley Week came to a close with love. We learned the stories of Angels Among Us, and learned a little bit more about why we dance for IUDM. For Ryan. For Ashley. For Jacob. For Vincent. For the Kids. This week, and every week, we live our dash to honor theirs.