On Sept. 29, members of the Adventist Peace Fellowship (APF) Southern Chapter will demonstrate on campus on behalf of Matthew Rushin, a young, Black autistic male serving a 10 year-sentence following his involvement in a serious car crash back in 2019. The chapter is designating the date as “Matthew Rushin Day” to bring awareness to those who may not be familiar with his story.
According to The Washington Post, the 21-year old Virginia Beach native and college student was given a 50-year sentence after he was involved in a car crash that left a man seriously injured. Rushin’s sentence has now been reduced to 10 years; however his family and autism activists are still advocating for justice, claiming he did not intend to hurt anyone.
APF had its first meeting on Sept. 17, and the story of Rushin was shared with current members.
“I hadn’t heard about Matthew Rushin’s story before,” said Lesieli Savelio, a freshman psychology-industrial/organization major and current member of APF. “I joined [APF] because I like what they stand for and how they want to fight for what is right.”
Elise Deschamps, a junior public relations major and fellow Virginia Beach native, knew Rushin through mutual friends. She said she met him during her freshman year of high school and had him as a friend on Snapchat for a while.
“He is super outgoing and super kind,” Deschamps said. “I had a few conversations with him about progressive fashion and unfair gender roles and what not. From what I remember, he definitely struggled with anxiety and depression. We hadn’t spoken in a really long time when I heard about his case. I hate to say that I had no clue that no justice had been served until the case started trending on social media.”
When asked why APF chose to cover this story, Shayla Moguel-Coronel, a sophomore international development studies major and vice president of APF, said a lot of the cases the chapter has analyzed have been ones related to first responders and how they handle mental health issues.
“A lot of cases that we’ve been looking at have to do with how first responders would respond to problems that are more psychological,” Moguel-Coronel said. “And they [may] not be well trained in those areas. So, with people who are dealing with specific episodes and police not [knowing] how to react well, it can lead to unfair court cases and unfair judgement.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network, approximately one in 59 children in the United States have been identified as being on the autism spectrum.
“So many people with autism get entirely overlooked constantly,” said Isabella Eklund, a sophomore social work major and president of APF. “It’s a spectrum that we don’t understand, or many others [may] not understand. And media outlets that we found when we were looking to understand more of [Rushin’s] case totally ignored the fact that he was suffering from PTSD from a prior accident that left him in a coma for an entire week. Adventist Peace Fellowship’s goal is to advocate and to also be a resource of information so that people can educate themselves on current events and also have a foundation and a group of people that they know they can trust and have this community of love with them.”
Flyers have been posted around campus to bring awareness to the Rushin case, and Eklund said APF members will be passing out pamphlets with QR codes and phone numbers for students to call to access information.
“This is not a club exclusive event,” Eklund said. “This is using our resources to give Southern more resources.”Those who have questions about getting involved or want more information can follow APF on its Instagram account, @sau_apf, or contact Eklund by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or Moguel-Coronel at at email@example.com .