Princeton’s campus community, which endured the deaths of three students in 2022, began the 2023 spring semester with two additional losses in the span of one week.
Maura Coursey, a first-year graduate student in the School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA), was found dead in her off-campus residence on Jan. 26, according to a message from University administrators. No foul play was suspected in Coursey’s death, and no cause of death was given. The results of an autopsy will not be released until a toxicology report is completed, according to Julie Willmot, director of communications for Mercer County.
Jaqueline Gonzalez ’25 died Feb. 1 from liver and kidney failure following a prolonged illness, according to a message from Forbes College Dean Patrick Caddeau shared with PAW by a University spokesman. Gonzalez was on a health-related leave of absence from the University.
Campus gatherings helped students honor their lost classmates. A student-led memorial service for Coursey, which drew about 200 people to Robertson Hall Jan. 30, featured heartfelt stories and tributes, including a musical performance by three friends who had played folk songs with her.
The song they chose, “Crowded Table” by the Highwomen, was one of Coursey’s favorites and embraced the theme of community. Graduate cohorts at SPIA tend to be small and tight-knit, friend and classmate Brontë Forsgren told PAW, and losing a member of the group less than six months after arriving on campus has been “incredibly difficult,” she said. “I do think that all of us have really relied on each other in a way that’s brought us closer through that grief.”
Coursey, 28, came to Princeton from Utah, where she earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Utah and worked for the International Rescue Committee on domestic violence prevention for recently resettled refugees in the Salt Lake City area.
On campus, friends were impressed by Coursey’s range of interests and talents, from competing in muay thai boxing matches to helping classmates crunch numbers for their statistics course. She had a passion for social justice, including women’s and LGBTQ rights, and had no reservations about speaking up. “She was unapologetically herself,” classmate Kelso Brasunas said.
At Forbes College, where Gonzalez lived during her time on campus, about 50 students, faculty, and staff gathered on Feb. 8, the same day that funeral services were held in her hometown, Harvard, Illinois. Gonzalez was the valedictorian of her high school class and came to Princeton through the QuestBridge program, which matches outstanding low-income high-schoolers with selective colleges. Friends remembered her kind heart, her tenacity, and her love of learning. One instructor said that even after she had to drop a class due to her medical leave, she would email asking for new problem sets.
Caddeau, the Forbes dean, wrote in his Feb. 7 message to the college community that Gonzalez was “a talented and dedicated student, and a highly engaged member of multiple groups on campus, including the Freshman Scholars Institute and Scholars Institute Fellows Program through the Emma Bloomberg Center for Access and Opportunity. Her passing is a tragedy for us all.”
Dean Khristina Gonzalez, director of the Emma Bloomberg Center, wrote that Gonzalez helped welcome students to Princeton as a virtual college adviser in the Freshman Scholars Institute’s online program. “[A]s a community, we will, in Jaki’s spirit, look after and hold one another up,” she said.
Like Gonzalez, Coursey made a range of connections in her short time on campus. Forsgren was struck by how many had “very specific stories and moments in which she was really a friend for them that they needed.” With that in mind, the first-year MPA cohort hopes to find ways to continue honoring Coursey’s memory and her impact on the class.
“She’s still one of us, and she’s still part of us,” Forsgren said.