An Emerson College journalism professor who died Tuesday after being struck by a commuter rail train in Beverly is being remembered by colleagues and students as an innovative storyteller who cared deeply about providing a platform for marginalized people.
Janet Kolodzy, chair of Emerson’s journalism department, said the death of 42-year-old Moses Shumow left a “gaping hole” in the department. “We’re all trying to figure out what we all feel and want to do next,” she said in a phone interview Wednesday morning.
Shumow’s death is the second tragedy to hit Emerson since fall classes began. Daniel J. Hollis, a 19-year-old sophomore from Mendon, died Oct. 2, about four days after an off-campus altercation that left him with a severe brain injury.
Students who spoke to a reporter outside the college’s Boylston Street dining hall said the deaths have put a pall over the small, tightknit campus.
“It’s all about the proximity of the events,” said Monica Roche, 19, a sophomore from Palmer. “Both of these instances were the most tragic ways that somebody could pass, and so unexpected that we just weren’t ready for it.”
Hollis’s death less than a month into the semester was a harsh reminder of mortality for other students, she said. “He was just on the cusp of his life. He was so young,” she said. “He was here because he wanted to better himself and start a career.”
Because Hollis played on Emerson’s men’s lacrosse team, his death was especially hard on his teammates and other student athletes, Roche said. “Our athletes here are super-close, because we’re not, like, a big sports school,” she said.
Roche’s friend, Phoebe Sweeting, 20, a publishing major from Barrington, R.I., said she was scheduled to deliver a presentation Tuesday, but when her professor came into the classroom, she told students, “We’re not doing the presentation today, guys. I’m not in the right mindset.”
The professor told journalism students in the class that she didn’t want to add academic pressure to the loss they were experiencing. “The whole environment of the classroom changed,” Sweeting said.
Shumow joined the Emerson faculty as an associate professor this fall, after nine years teaching at Florida International University in Miami, returning to Boston where he had completed a master’s degree in broadcast journalism at Emerson in 2001, according to the college.
He relocated with his wife, Rose, and their three children, starting a new chapter in their lives that he believed would be a positive one, Kolodzy said.
“That, I think, is the hardest thing for everyone here,” she said. “You know, people talk about the kick in the gut. It’s beyond that.”
Shumow was part of a movement within Emerson’s journalism department to embrace a variety of storytelling approaches across different media, taking advantage of opportunities provided by new technology, Kolodzy said.
He also was a mentor to students, she said, “getting them to understand communities are people,” and was passionate about his work in Liberty City, a historic African-American community in Miami that in recent years has experienced rapid development and displacement of longtime residents.
For about a decade, Shumow produced documentary films for television networks such as National Geographic, Discovery, The History Channel, and PBS, according to a statement from Emerson. His work won awards such as the Rocky Mountain Emmy for Cultural Programming and the duPont-Columbia Gold Baton Award, and in 2018 he was named a Miami Urban Future Initiative Fellow.
“Moses was passionate about the role of media in vulnerable and marginalized communities, and he was deeply excited to return to Emerson and to engage his students in this important work,” Emerson President Lee Pelton and Provost Michaele Whelan said in their Tuesday statement. “The fact that his life and his work were cut short this morning is an unimaginable tragedy.”
Shumow was crossing commuter rail tracks on his bicycle at a pedestrian cut-through near the Beverly Depot about 8:20 a.m. Tuesday when he was struck by an outbound train, according to MBTA Transit Police and Emerson, which confirmed Shumow’s identity.
Transit Police Superintendent Richard Sullivan has said the incident is still under investigation.
News of the tragedy left his colleagues reeling.
“I think we’re still a little bit trying to adjust to just the shock of not having him, and more importantly we’re just trying to figure out any and all we can do to support his family,” Kolodzy said, describing Shumow as “very dedicated and devoted” to his wife and children.
Emerson broadcast journalism major Angel Salcedo, 20, who is from Weston, worked closely with Shumow in recent weeks as news director for the college’s student television station, where Shumow had been recently named the faculty advisor.
“From the instant I met him, it was just positive energy. That was his M.O.,” Salcedo said.
Shumow, he said, was a tough critic of student work, but he was always smiling and positive, so that even when pointing out flaws in a project he motivated students to want to correct them, Salcedo said.
On Tuesday, Shumow had been scheduled to meet the full student staff at the station. Salcedo said the loss is “really, really, really difficult. I was excited for everyone to meet the person I had gotten to know as our advisor, and that chance never came.”
But the loss students feel is nothing compared to the devastation for Shumow’s family, Salcedo said.
“What I grieve most for is his three kids and his wife, because I don’t know what I would do if I was just told one day that my dad wouldn’t come home from work,” he said. “We are going to do everything we can to make sure his family’s taken care of.”
Roche, the sophomore from Palmer, met Shumow when he appeared as a guest speaker in a journalism class she took last year, while he was interviewing for the job he later received.
“He was really enthusiastic about being part of our community, and he made a really great impression on our whole classroom,” Roche said. “That’s why I think this is so sad.”
Some of Shumow’s current and former students posted remembrances online, describing him as “one of the most influential people in my life as a student and as a person,” “my favorite professor that I’ve ever had,” and “One of the greatest humans and Professors who ever taught at” Florida International University.
One of the greatest humans and Professors who ever taught at @FIU for sure! He was so loved by everyone who studied under him and I know he inspired people to go do bigger better things! He will be missed by everyone who knew him. @FIU_SCJ https://t.co/jhT1oT30VH— Sandeep Varry (@SVarry9) October 22, 2019
No words... my favorite professor that I’ve ever had was struck by a train and killed. The man who’s class brought me and my best friends together. He was such an amazing man, an amazing teacher, he cared for his family more than anything. We will miss you Prof. Shumow.— Kai'Chien Chisholm (@SamuraiiRadio) October 22, 2019
I don't find myself using this account much due to work and study, but I do want to pay my respects to one of the most influential people in my life as a student and as a person: Moses Shumow. He unfortunately passed in a train accident earlier yesterday. https://t.co/sZFetvpmO9— danny (@dannylederman) October 23, 2019
Emerson encourages students and faculty mourning Shumow to reach out to campus counselors for support or to Julie Avis Rogers, the college’s director of spiritual life, who will hold an open hour from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday in the Center for Spiritual Life.