The voice of and for USM students


The voice of and for USM students


The voice of and for USM students


USM continues to remember Alex Motanya

Abigail Troth
A candle burns in honor of the late Alex Motanya.

USM continues to remember Alex Motanya

By Abigail Troth and Bethal Miles

It was a tragic evening at The University of Southern Mississippi when it was reported that a student had died after falling from the top of the 4th Street Parking Garage on Sept. 28, 2023. The Southern Miss community expressed an outpouring of grief, support, and sympathy for the family of USM student Alex Motanya, the victim of the tragedy.

A vigil was held on campus to grieve for Motanya, and barriers were even placed on the fourth floor of the parking garage in an attempt to prevent any further tragedies. Now, six months later, Motanya’s mother has summoned the courage to visit the place where her son tragically died.

Dr. Elena Stepanova is an associate professor of psychology at USM. On the six-month anniversary of her son’s death, March 28, Stepanova wanted to visit the place where her son landed, and pay tribute. Despite the emotion it took to come back to such a heavy location, Stepanova organized a spur-of-the-moment memorial service for her beloved son.

“I was never able to summon courage and actually see where he landed,” Stepanova said. “So today was my first time to come and see where he fell.”

Stepanova gathered an unfathomable amount of strength to visit the parking garage, bearing a portrait of Motanya and a candle. Word quickly spread on YikYak that she was there, and a crowd joined her to pay tribute to Motanya.

But rather than only remembering Motanya for the tragedy, Stepanova wants the community to celebrate her son for the contributions he made throughout his life.

“He had great ambitions in life,” she said. “He was an amazing speaker, an amazing reader, and he was a very big social media influencer.”

Motanya had amassed over two million likes on his TikTok page and had a penchant for philosophy. And he also had strong aspirations to play basketball at USM, with a dream to walk on the court. But above all, Stepanova knows that her son loved life.

“He was somebody who connected very easily with people from different walks of life,” she said.

For strength, Stepanova fondly remembers the trip she took to Brazil with Motanya. She tenderly recalls his love for Rio de Janeiro and how happy he was in the pictures. Memories like that will never be forgotten by Stepanova.

Stepanova wants to help others deal with loss.

“I hope that at one point in my life, I can help people like myself,” she said. “I think right now I still need help, so I don’t know how much help I can offer. But I think at some point in my life, I do want to be there for people like myself.”

But Stepanova still wants the community to know that there is help available for those in need. No matter the crisis, no matter the emergency, someone can help you. It just takes a moment to reach out.

“The message that I have for everybody here is that if you feel you’re broken, if you feel like something is broken inside, try to reach out,” Stepanova recommended.

Taylor Buning, a student who witnessed the event on that fateful night, was there to offer her support at the memorial service. She shares many of Stepanova’s sentiments and also wants to ensure that people are aware of the importance of reaching out to those in need.

“Your world is being entirely flipped on its head,” Buning said. “And sometimes, I think small reminders that it’s going to be okay from your peers would help a little bit.”

Patrol Officer Destiny Mays of the Southern Miss University Police Department is keen on ensuring the well-being of the community, in more ways than one.

“Just be supportive and let people know that ‘hey, I’m here,’” said Mays. “And I know sometimes just saying that [you’re] there people don’t believe that, but sometimes you have to show that by your actions and actually show up for people.”

UPD can be contacted at 601.266.4986, or you can visit their office on the first floor of Bond Hall. Mays is one of the many officers that offers her support to the community during times of need.

“We’ll come sit with you, we’ll talk to you, we’ll get counseling services on scene for you if you need it,” Mays offered.

These messages are intertwined by a common thread—reaching out when you need help. The life of Alex Motanya will not have been in vain, and the community must not forget the beautiful life he lived. Motanya must be remembered as a shining light in a dark world, who loved basketball, poetry, philosophy and so much more. Stepanova will not forget him. We shouldn’t either.

“I want people to remember that he was a very determined individual, and he was very ambitious,” Stepanova reminded the community.

If you are in need of mental health services, dial 988 for 24/7 emergency support. Student Counseling Services is also available as an on-campus resource for the community, and can be contacted at 601.266.4829. Their office can also be visited in Bond Hall South, East Entrance. You are not alone.

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