June 30, 2021

Dear Members of the Connecticut College Community, 

It is with great sadness that I write to inform you of the passing of Melissa Shafner, director of student accessibility services, who died yesterday after an extended illness. Melissa was a wonderful student advocate, a consummate professional, and a trusted colleague to many at the College, and we deeply mourn her loss. 

A longtime resident of New London, Melissa was a Winthrop Scholar who graduated from Connecticut College in 1990 summa cum laude with departmental honors in psychology. She then went on to earn her J.D. at Hofstra University School of Law before completing a M.Ed. at the University of New Haven. Melissa rejoined the College in 2016 as the director of student accessibility services, working first within the Academic Resource Center and then moving in 2019 to the division of institutional equity and inclusion. In that role, Melissa oversaw academic and residential accommodations; handled policies and procedures to ensure full participation for all students; and provided education about ability for the whole community. 

In short, Melissa had a tremendous impact on our campus. She worked with so many staff and faculty colleagues to support students with disabilities in and out of the classroom. She established and chaired a campuswide committee on accessibility to bring not only her equity-mindedness but also her legal expertise to promote policies and procedures that were most fair to all. She took on the major task of converting her office from paper to electronic transactions, in order to eliminate the need for students to share their request for accommodations in a public space. She led sessions among like-minded students to offer support, connection, and community building. She even partnered with student leaders to bring a chapter of Eye to Eye—a group focused on mentorship for the differently abled—to our campus.

Her work with the local community was similarly transformative. As a long-serving member of the Board of Solomon Schechter Academy, Melissa made a lasting difference. When the academy announced its final graduating class in June 2021, it was Melissa who received the accolades for helping the school’s programs carry on for so many years.

Those who worked closely with Melissa know of her incredible work ethic; her dedication to students; her ability to navigate difficult situations; and her skill at asking the hard questions that can push an issue or an organization to a new level. She was an intelligent, diligent, and deeply thoughtful colleague with extensive knowledge of her field and a profound commitment to Connecticut College. It is difficult to imagine our community without her. 

Those who wish to pay their respects are invited to attend services tomorrow, Thursday, July 1 at 12:30 p.m., at Neilan’s Funeral Home in New London. The services will also be streamed live via Zoom for those unable to attend in person. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to Connecticut College in memory of Melissa Shafner. 

A small virtual gathering will be held on Friday for colleagues who worked most closely with her on campus. A larger gathering is planned for the fall to allow all students, faculty, and staff the opportunity to celebrate Melissa’s life together. Information about that event will be shared as soon as it is available. 

I want to remind you that there are many places to turn for support. Students needing help may reach an off-site licensed professional clinician at no cost, in two different ways: 

  • Counseling After Hours: Call the Student Counseling Services phone number (860-439-4587) and press option 2 or 3. This is a telephone-based mental health service that is available to all students in need of access to mental health support when Student Counseling Services is not open. This service provides students with access to an off-site counselor who will provide support during the summer break. 

  • My SSP (Student Support Program): Download the free My SSP App, available on the App Store or Google Play. Through the app, you can call or chat with a Student Support Counselor 24/7 in real-time or schedule a telephone or video session that fits your schedule. My SSP provides support in the event of a personal crisis and also connects students with providers, offering both short and long-term counseling. You may also call My SSP directly at 866-743-7732 (or from outside North America at 001-416-380-6578). The My SSP app offers a digital library of articles and videos that you may find helpful.

College employees should know, too, that they may speak to professional counselors any time of the day or night through the HigherEd Employee Assistance Program by calling 800-252-4555.

For now, I ask you to join me in extending our deepest condolences to Melissa’s son, Noah; her father, Jay Clott; her brother, Jonathan Clott; her former husband, Daniel Shafner; and her many friends and colleagues 

Yours sincerely,

Katherine Bergeron


Katherine Bergeron