Let Her Light Shine: Remembering Lauren McCluskey

Oct 22, 2022, 2:11 PM | Updated: Nov 7, 2022, 2:24 pm

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SALT LAKE CITY- It’s been exactly four years since Lauren McCluskey was brutally murdered by her ex-boyfriend on the University of Utah campus and her mother, Jill McCluskey is determined to make sure her daughter’s light continues to shine.

Since Lauren was taken, McCluskey has started a foundation in her daughter’s honor, the Lauren McCluskey Foundation, which aims to better educate and prepare college campuses to deal with dating violence and stalking. While her daughter was failed massively, McCluskey’s hope is that valuable lessons can be taken from Lauren’s ordeal that will save lives in the future.

Who Was Lauren McCluskey?

Lauren was a track and field athlete for the Utes and in her senior season when her life was cruelly ended. Lauren’s mother remembers her daughter as kind and able to befriend anyone from the “popular” kids, down to special needs kids and everyone in between. Lauren was an advocate for animals, a good student, and loved to sing.

“She was sort of an ideal daughter,” McCluskey recalled of her daughter. “She was a student-athlete and earned a scholarship to compete on the track team at the U. She was a scholar athlete- her GPA was a 3.77 and she was about to graduate. She cared about her friends and enjoyed hanging out with them. She loved animals and volunteered at the Humane Society to help socialize cats, so they were more adoptable.”

“She loved to sing,” McCluskey continued. “She would ask friends to come to church with her so she could belt out the songs and she sang karaoke- that was another thing she loved doing. She was just a wonderful young lady.”

Lauren had many different interests that she was thinking about pursuing after graduation according to McCluskey.

“She was starting to look for jobs,” McCluskey said. “She majored in Communications, and she was an outstanding writer. In high school she had won an award for the best writer in her school. She was interested in something where she could interact with people, so she was also thinking about being an academic advisor so she could help student-athletes navigate being successful academically while competing at a high level.”

Lauren’s Promise

McCluskey says as she was growing up and coming of age, she was lucky enough to have not had an abusive situation like her daughter. However, McCluskey says the learning curve of just how common what her daughter went through has been immense.

“I didn’t understand the seriousness and how common it actually is before we lost Lauren,” McCluskey said. “I’ve definitely become aware of that, and I’ve had a number of young women come up to me and say they were in that situation and hearing Lauren’s story gave them the courage to get out- away from the abusive partner. I’ve also heard from a lot of moms who have told me- have asked for advice on how to get their daughter out of that situation. You understand how common it is.”

McCluskey has since taken that tragically found knowledge and used to it try and make things better for others through the Lauren McCluskey Foundation. It’s a painful, yet rewarding way for McCluskey to heal, and know that Lauren’s death wasn’t in vain.

“The primary mission is campus safety and that is really focused on the response to victims,” McCluskey said. “There really are a lot of fantastic foundations that are for violence prevention or helping victims recover, but there are very few that focus on the response- how to improve the response. Some of the things we are working on with strategic initiatives is one, awareness of the seriousness of dating violence and stalking.”

In order to raise more awareness for dating violence and stalking, McCluskey has gone to what Lauren loved best- running (or walking). McCluskey has also pushed “Lauren’s Promise” as a way for people to be more mindful when someone comes to them for help.

“We’ve had over 100 memorial awareness walks and they are usually in October around the date of Lauren’s murder,” McCluskey said. “We also have done some races for campus safety. We’ve done one every year at Washington State University, we’re doing our first one in Salt Lake on Saturday. Our most successful initiative has been expanding the adoption of ‘Lauren’s Promise’. Lauren’s Promise is- I will listen and believe you if someone is threatening you.”

Embracing Lauren’s Story From Utah, WSU Student-Athletes

While not shocking that Lauren’s story really resonated with female student-athletes from all over, perhaps one of the better outcomes has been how the male student-athletes have responded. McCluskey says she’s been pleased with the messages she’s received from Utah football in the years since her daughter’s passing, as well as how the school she teaches at- Washington State University has embraced the story within their football program as well.

“It means so much, and I know it is genuine from them,” McCluskey said. “I’ve actually had emails from football alumni- players who have since graduated that they knew Lauren and how much it affected them. It’s wonderful, and I was just recently invited to talk to the football team at WSU and they understand and also want to make Lauren’s Promise to really help and protect the women who are on the WSU campus as well. I feel those athletes- especially those football and basketball players- all those athletes are working so hard and so many of them are such young men of character. I appreciate all of the support and you can tell they understand and mean it.”

Let Her Light Shine

Sadly, nothing will bring Lauren, or the countless other victims of dating and domestic violence back. However, McCluskey hopes in the future that her daughter will continue to be remembered as a kind person who just wanted to make things better for the people and animals she encountered daily.

“I want her to be remembered as someone who always cared about other people,” McCluskey said. “Some of her former teammates have told me when they were new to the team, and if they were kind of by themselves, she would always go over and talk to them. She was always worried about other people and always helping other people. She- her friends were all sorts of people from the popular person to the disabled person who was struggling. She was just a good person to friends. She loved animals and was a hard worker. I was very proud of her athletic ability, and she still holds a lot of Ute track and field records. I am just proud to have her as a daughter.”

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Let Her Light Shine: Remembering Lauren McCluskey