Content warning: mentions of suicide.
Carey Davis was a force to be reckoned with. A daughter, sister, friend, co-worker, and peer to many, Davis is remembered for her vibrant intellectual curiosity and deeply-rooted compassion for other people and their experiences. These traits were an intrinsic part of Davis’ character, which becomes all the more apparent when you speak to the loved ones she left behind.
When Davis, a second-year student, passed away by suicide in January, the impact of her death was felt deeply by her friends, peers, and family, from the University of Toronto to her hometown in Massachusetts. When Davis died, there was a real sense that a curious and compassionate intellectual who was poised to make this world a better place had been lost.
Davis was focused on solving global problems with solutions that placed the wellbeing of the people involved at the fore, and she had the ability to empower others to feel the same way she did: that we all could, and should, effect positive change. In her first year, she took part in the globally-focused Munk One program, alongside which she became a Varsity staff writer.
Davis was always eager to engage with others in what she called “Thought Experiments,” wherein people would get together to discuss problems of global importance and scale. She was focused on solving problems in unique ways that at once challenged underlying assumptions while remaining sensitive to the human and environmental impacts of policy decisions.
The spirit of these Thought Experiments is taking shape in The Carey Projects, an effort by Davis’ family, friends, and loved ones in the university community to foster debate about, and look toward implementing solutions for, issues that mattered to Davis. Though the plan for the projects is in its early stages, there is an understanding that the projects will come to include mental health awareness and suicide prevention.
“Depression isn’t really talked about openly in a lot of places,” said Cheryl Davis, Carey’s mother. “We really want to do more education and awareness that it’s a medical disorder, it’s not something that you hide or are ashamed of. People need to be talking about it and be looking for it.”
Shortly after Carey’s death, her family came to Toronto and met with members of Carey’s circle, including her best friend, Marium Nur Vahed, and Professor Teresa Kramarz, the Director of the Munk One program.
One thing they discussed was what Carey’s legacy would look like, and there started the discussion of The Carey Projects, which would ask students to work together as a team to solve a global issue and potentially apply for funds to implement the solution. Audacious Futures, a social innovation-minded consultancy firm that Carey worked for, has also committed resources to implement some of the projects.
Carey was a student of Kramarz’s in the Munk One program and was later her research assistant, though this doesn’t do justice to how close the two were. “She embodied the kind of curiosity and engagement that makes academia exciting,” Kramarz said. “She was… so curious, but also so engaged — she wanted to be doing.”
“The Carey Projects will be many things,” Kramarz explained. “One of the things that we’re thinking is, in broad terms, how to create opportunities for the discussion of big ideas and counterfactual thinking that she was very committed to, and marry that with action, which she was also very committed to.” As it finds its grounding, The Carey Projects will be run in part through the Munk One program and the community at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy.
“Our longer-term goal, in addition to the global affairs side, is to work with colleges and universities and educating people [about mental health in young people],” Cheryl said. “And more systematically looking and working with colleges and universities on how they can reduce the stress and anxiety that these young adults are experiencing.”
Nur Vahed met her best friend through the Munk One program and has recently become involved in the How Many Lives? campaign, which calls for mental health reform from the University of Toronto administration.
“She was always looking for ways to change the world,” Nur Vahed said. “She had a huge heart, she was very empathetic — she was always very kind and very willing to converse with people and be there for people.”
“My hope is that these projects reflect that, because when you lose a person like that, you also lose everything that they would be able to do for this world,” said Nur Vahed. She hopes that the projects will “have the impact that Carey could have had, knowing that she was such a bright, intelligent, kind, empathetic, and creative young woman.”
At press time, the projects’ GoFundMe campaign hovered at around $17,000 of a $25,000 goal. Those who were close to Carey are committed to seeing these projects through. “We want people to know that we’re committed to doing this for our lifespan, and that this is something that Carey’s name will live on through in the people that we can affect through these projects,” Cheryl said.
The Carey Projects are not just about finding solutions to the global problems that captured Carey’s mind. Her devotion to discussing and debating issues was rooted in the act of conversation, and, as Kramarz said, these projects also “continue the conversation with Carey, and continue Carey in the conversation.”
“Because she’s the one who started it.”
Carey’s legacy is ever-present in these conversations and will be in the projects to come.
Donations to The Carey Projects can be made at gofundme.com/the-carey-projects.