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The Clarion

The Student News Site of Bethel University

The Clarion

The Student News Site of Bethel University

The Clarion

Welcome Week incident forces a move-out

Slammed in the face by a futon, Welcome Week Coordinator Sydney Riggs is left with no option but to return home during her final year of college.

By Abbi Bates 

Sydney Riggs stood outside of Arden Village in mid-October with tears streaming down her face and her Honda CR-V heaped with a dorm-full of belongings, including Chacos, her Bible and Texas A&M t-shirts. 

“I never thought I would move out of my dorm the fall of my senior year,” Riggs said.

The futon that struck Riggs in the head Aug. 25, 2021, did not leave her much of a choice. 

The end of the first day of move-ins was coming to a close. There were still a handful of cars roaming in for the evening to move in. All but a few had gone in for dinner. Welcome Week staff members Josh Sampson and Micah Smith struggled to unload a futon from a large SUV. They called over Riggs to help. 

The jostled futon was shoved and slammed against the side of her face and shoulder.

“Ow ow ow,” Riggs said while she gripped her head. 

Smith told her to “go sit down, immediately.” 

After bringing the futon into the dorm, Smith, a health education major, marched back to perform a concussion test – examining for differences in pupil sizes, slurred speech, weakness and decreased coordination. 

Sydney Riggs and Joel Smith welcome students during move-in on day one with smiling faces at Freshmen Hill. | Submitted by Riggs

“I think you have a concussion,” Smith said. 

As one of three Welcome Week Coordinators, Riggs felt she had no choice but to continue through the next four days of Welcome Week despite feeling “different.” Little did she know this would be a five-month recovery that would result in taking the rest of the academic year off. 

The day following her concussion, she presented on stage in Benson Great Hall to all incoming freshmen and their parents. She couldn’t quite remember what she had talked to them about. 

“I was probably slurring my words,” Riggs said. 

She did not slow down for the four remaining days of Welcome Week, 7 a.m. to midnight. She planned the lakeside picnic, commissioning service, the Show, the Bethel Student Government party and the Day of Service. She took frequent breaks in her supervisor’s office to lie down in a dark room. Bright lights and blaring sun caused discomfort and she was unable to lift her arm. Riggs knew something was wrong with her health.

Sydney Riggs fulfills her Welcome Week coordinator duties during day one of the move-ins. | Submitted by Sydney Riggs

“I just feel like there should have been so many red flags,” she said.

She continued with Welcome Week tasks as she prepared to start her senior year of classes in her elementary K-6 major.

“She’s normally the most bubbly and friendly person,” said boyfriend, now husband, Mark Riggs, “but when she was concussed all she wanted to do and was able to do was pretty much lie in bed most of the day. It was hard to see how much it took out of her and how slow the recovery process was.”


Welcome Week finished and Monday morning marked the beginning of the fall semester. Riggs visited Bethel’s on-campus nurse practitioner, Elizabeth Ewest, who told her she most likely had a concussion and to take breaks from looking at her computer. 

Days went by and her symptoms did not improve. Headaches proceeded, bright light still brought irritation and dizziness followed her everywhere she walked. Associate Dean for Student Care Alicia Ochs met with Riggs during the first week of the semester. Riggs was given a month of full accommodations considering the circumstances. 

Student Life Staff member and Associate Dean for Campus Engagement Nate Gustafson declined to comment on the incident as he wasn’t hired until January 2022.

After more visits, Ewest prescribed Riggs an antidepressant intended to help with concussion symptoms and told her to take over-the-counter magnesium. At the beginning of October, she was referred to a neurologist because her symptoms were not improving. 

Her stay at Bethel lasted only a month after the incident. She was encouraged by others and ultimately made the decision herself to move out and go home to Hartford, South Dakota. Her 18-credit semester came to a close after her adviser, Education Licensing and Advising Specialist Nadine Johnson, encouraged her to do so. Ochs also told her she needed to go home to care for her health. 

Mark and Sydney enter their reception as newlyweds. | Photo by Emily Moin

“I’m so stinking proud of her. She has overcome so much to plan a beautiful wedding and complete her senior year … I’ve always been proud of Sydney,” Pam Holloway said. “She’s always trusted the Lord in all areas of her life and He’s blessed her with great leadership skills, a huge loving heart and wisdom some people only wish for.”

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