CU Denver Community Grieves the Loss of Katherine Pivoda

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Katherine Pivoda, a 33-year-old PhD student and English department faculty member, was tragically killed by her ex-husband in a domestic violence incident on Sept. 29. “It breaks our hearts to share this tragic news with the Lynx community,” said Provost Constancio Nakuma and Senior Vice Chancellor Monique Snowden, in a message sent to the CU Denver community on Oct. 1. “As a campus, we extend our deepest condolences to Katherine’s family, friends, and colleagues.”

Nakuma and Snowden encourage anyone grieving in the wake of this tragedy to utilize campus resources such as the CU Denver Student and Community Counseling Center, or the Office of Case Management. Additional resources they bring attention to include the Colorado Crisis Line and the Phoenix Center at Auraria.

The university’s message describes Pivoda as, “an upbeat and exemplary student and instructor, always putting her learners in the classroom first as she supported their growth in writing and expression.”

“Katy was a member of the [English] department in one capacity or another for…seven or eight years,” according to Philip Joseph, the chair of CU Denver’s English department. She started and completed her master’s degree at CU Denver. “She had a pretty close-knit group of masters students that she went through that program with, many of whom are still teaching for us, so they’ve known Katy for a really long time,” said Joseph.

After completing her master’s degree, Pivoda went to Beijing where she served as the Associate Program Chair for the CU Denver English program on the China Agricultural University campus. She then returned to Colorado and worked as an instructor for CU Denver, teaching primarily online courses, while raising her children.

Pivoda was a reliable, vibrant young woman interested in learning and trying to make the world a better place, according to Michelle Comstock, Associate Chair of the CU Denver English Department. Comstock was Pivoda’s practicum supervisor when she first began teaching Composition in Fall 2014.

Comstock described Pivoda as a great listener and said she “could always count on her to make meetings and class interesting and fun.” She emphasized how hard Pivoda worked to create a fun and engaging classroom environment. Comstock described one icebreaker Pivoda used in her classes called “Snowball Fight” in which students would write down two things about themselves on a piece of paper, crumple it up, and use it for a snowball fight with their peers. At the end, students would pick up a single piece of paper from the ground and use it to introduce one of their classmates.

To honor Pivoda, Comstock and the English Department have been collecting written remembrances so a booklet can be created to given to Pivoda’s family, friends, and the Lynx community. A written remembrance can be anything from a few sentences to a slam poem, which Pivoda was known to known to enjoy.

“The idea is to get people who really knew Katy, who worked with her professionally, who might have had a friendship with her, to speak about her life and to do justice to the person that she was, to the person that we knew, and to the person that had contributed a lot to our department over seven or eight years,” said Philip Joseph.

Her passing had a profound effect on the English department. “It’s been hard. There’s been grief,” said Comstock.

“She was with the department for a really long time and developed a lot of relationships with people,” said Joseph. “People were really devastated, and also recognized the urgency to come together, to bond, to step up. I was moved by how supportive and how much solidarity there was in the department.”

Pivoda had been teaching four sections of classes at the time of her death. Filling those positions was “a priority,” according to Joseph. “We had students who were, obviously, reeling emotionally because they lost their professor. They didn’t have academic guidance, and they didn’t have anybody that they could go to with any sort of emotional response to what had happened,” said Joseph. But, with that emotional pressure on top of the traditional challenges of picking up a class halfway through the semester, Joseph “didn’t expect that people were going to simply volunteer to teach an additional section at this point in the semester.”

But right away, “Kristen Golden, Sarah Woodard, Christopher Merkner, and Amanda Grell stepped up and filled those sections without very much arm twisting or anything like that from me. This came from them,” said Joseph. “I was really moved that they were willing to do this, voluntarily, split-second—they recognized how important it was for us to heal together and to help our students get over this incident.”

Comstock noted that Katherine’s death was “shocking but not surprising. So many people experience domestic violence or intimate partner violence on a regular basis. It’s an epidemic.”

Comstock believes more resources should be put toward programs and services meant to combat interpersonal violence. “I’d like to get on my soapbox a little bit and say that we need more university funding for the Phoenix Center and the Women and Gender Center,” she said. “People like Katy need a community even if they never ever access the resources, they know it’s there. These offices are not just for people going through domestic and interpersonal violence, it’s for the rest of us trying to help too. I hope the university steps up.”

“[Domestic] violence is a community issue. It’s not an individual issue, it’s not a women’s issue. It’s a global issue. It’s a public health crisis,” said Katherine Miller, the advocacy services program manager for the Phoenix Center at Auraria. “What we need to be doing is providing a lot of education…one sex ed class in middle school isn’t enough. We need to provide more in-depth education more often.”

Miller says education on sex, consent, healthy relationships, boundaries, and other related topics would help “people to be able to identify green flags—things you want in a relationship—and identify red flags—things that are unhealthy and potentially abusive.”

According to Miller, “women are five times more likely to be murdered after leaving an abusive relationship.” Being able to identify red flags would help potential future victims of domestic violence leave unhealthy relationships before they become dangerous. “We’re a lot less likely to have those abusive tendencies happen in our relationships if we’re all getting that education on what a healthy relationship looks like,” said Miller.

Education could also prevent potential perpetrators of abuse from becoming abusive. “Violence is a learned behavior; it’s not something that people are born with,” Miller explained. “If we’re not normalizing [abusive behaviors] …it’s going to make it a lot harder for those that are perpetuating abuse to continue to think that what they’re doing is justified or OK.”

“But because violence is going to continue to happen, we need more resources,” said Miller. She emphasized the importance of not only providing these resources, but also making sure people know that they are available. “What I often hear from folks accessing our services is, ‘Oh, I didn’t even know that you existed.’ I’ve worked at this office for over four years, and that is one of my least favorite things to hear. I don’t want people to have to wait until they need us to know who we are,” she said. “Everyone should know what our services are, who they’re meant for, and what interpersonal violence looks like.”

The Phoenix Center provides free and confidential advocacy services to affiliates of the Auraria campus. People experiencing interpersonal violence “can come and meet with an advocate…and they can talk about what they’re experiencing,” according to Miller. “We can give them options, connect them to other resources, do safety planning, help with things like victim compensation, and other specific financial resources that may be available to victims of crime, in addition to a lot of other things.”

The Phoenix Center is located in Suite 227 of the Tivoli Student Union. More information about their services is available on their website at Their 24-hour Free and Confidential Helpline is 303-556-CALL (2255).

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