Fourteen days was all it took for Priscilla Gitimu, coordinator for the Youngstown State University Merchandising Program, to begin advocating a healthy body image campaign for students.
In summer 2012, Gitimu was teaching a class that she said she usually enjoys. When Danielle Peters, one of her students, did not show up for class one day, Gitimu said she did not think much of it.
“Classes are very small in the summer, and since they are only for six weeks, it is hard to really get to know everyone,” Gitimu said. “But when she didn’t show up to class, I had no idea that she had passed away. And now she is a student that has impacted this department very much.”
Peters died of complications from bulimia, and ever since then, Gitimu has done whatever she can to raise awareness for body image and eating disorders.
Gitimu said that she knew it was her job to advocate for the diseases after she heard Peters had passed.
“Two weeks changed my life,” she said. “I wanted to help in any way I could. I feel like I owe it to [Peters]. I would have never suspected she was going through what she was.”
At the beginning of fall 2012, Gitimu took on two projects to help advocate her message of body image awareness, one being the “Everybody EveryBODY Fashion Show” and the other was a study she began with seven of her colleagues in the human ecology department. In the study, she distributed surveys throughout the department with questions about dieting, ideal body shapes and the amount of exercising students may do on a daily basis.
Gitimu said that while she was planning the fashion show, she and the students decided to dedicate the show to Peters but not mention her name at all, for fear of a right of privacy.
“When her parents heard about the show, they ended up coming and five minutes before it started, I pulled Danielle’s mother aside and told her we were dedicating the night to her daughter,” Gitimu said. “She told me she knew when she heard about the show and that she was very thankful for what we were doing.”
After their meeting at the show, Gitimu and Peters’ parents got together and began planning the Danielle L. Peters Program Endowment to Promote Awareness of Eating Disorders Foundation to help the Youngstown community learn more about eating disorders and what can happen if you do not notice the warning signs early.
Mary Ann Peters, the mother of Danielle Peters, said no words could describe how wonderful of a person Gitimu has been to her family.
“It touches my heart so much,” Mary Ann Peters said. “I’m happy Danielle had her in class, because I think it was meant to be. It was all in God’s plan. She was in Danielle’s life for a reason.”
Peters also said that she believes Gitimu is a blessing in the lives of everyone she touches.
Miranda Dugan, YSU junior and fashion merchandise major, said she hopes to help Gitimu in whatever way she can.
“[Professor Gitimu] is an amazing teacher, and you can tell she is very passionate about her teaching and her side projects such as the fashion show,” Dugan said. “She takes it all so seriously, and that is one of the most respectable traits about her.”
Gitimu said she hopes that the future of the foundation will be bigger and brighter than ever.
“I feel so blessed for everything that has happened so far,” she said. “Everything seems to be coming together so quickly, and I couldn’t be more thankful.