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COVER STORY: Why everyone needs to know the story behind Andrew Stanham.

Last Wednesday, 22-year-old Andrew Stanham was found dead in the shower at his home in Wagga Wagga.

While his cause of death is yet to be confirmed, Andrew’s family told The Daily Telegraph they believe he had a seizure and fell while in the shower. The Charles Sturt University student had a history of seizures, and had previously taken medication for epilepsy.

Andrew’s father, Mark, told The Daily Telegraph he had no doubt stress was a contributing factor in his young son’s death.

But what kind of unusual stress could a 22-year-old university student be under?

On a Thursday night just over one month before Andrew’s death, he attended a party at the Black Swan Hotel in Wagga Wagga. The ‘politically incorrect’ themed party was meant to celebrate the beginning (and in turn, foreseeable end) of university exams. The invite, posted to Facebook, encouraged attendees to “grab a kit that would legally get you in sh*t”.

Image via Facebook.
Image via Facebook.
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The following day, two photos surfaced from the party. One depicted five men dressed in KKK costumes standing behind a man in Blackface, who was meant to resemble a slave picking cotton. Another featured three men in concentration camp jumpsuits, sitting solemnly while another man dressed as a Nazi watched on.

While most major publications in Australia started to cover the story, one mum, Lisa*, was having one of the worst days of her life.

Lisa didn't sleep on Thursday night. When she got to work on Friday morning, she lasted about ten minutes before she had to go home. She couldn't stop crying, and she felt like she was going to vomit.

Lisa's son was in one of the photos.

Speaking to Mamamia, Lisa says she thinks her son's costume was "highly offensive".

"They're attending this stupid party that just goes against modern society today," she says. "But they're not thinking past that party at the end of exams, they're not thinking past that theme."

She speaks with the air of frustration common among many parents of young men. But there's a line she keeps repeating:

"My son is a good person."

Lisa lists her son's passions, his achievements, and his goals. He's deeply compassionate, she tells me. "And if this can happen to my son," she says, "who's a goodie two shoes - this can happen to anyone".

Lisa's son's mistake, however, wasn't treated like something that could happen to anyone. The young men in the photos were described as "f*cking vile," "scum," and "less than human". As the photos from the party went viral, people started bringing the story to the attention of journalists, major news organisations, and Charles Sturt University. There were calls for the men to be expelled.

In Lisa's words, the public shaming of her son and the others in the photos got "out of hand".

Watch: Jon Ronson on the evolution of public shaming. Post continues after video. 

Video by 4News

Those who weren't immediately recognisable in the images had screenshots of their personal Facebook pages circulated, so their friends, workplaces and schools were identified.

"It's just like a pack mentality," Lisa says. "This hate for hate is not good."

On Monday, July 2, Charles Sturt University concluded its investigation into the incident and shared a media release stating the penalties for those involved.

"The University has handed down penalties ranging from exclusion to suspension including a requirement to complete the University’s Indigenous Australian Cultures, Histories and Contemporary Realities subject as well as engage with Indigenous and Jewish communities," a statement read.

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The Vice-Chancellor of the University, Andrew Vann, said, "These images resulted in global outrage and contact to the University from individuals around the globe. On a local level, it deeply offended our Indigenous and Jewish communities.

"Individuals, community groups, fellow students and those involved will all have differing opinions on the penalties. As a University we will not tolerate or condone this behaviour, we will however work with students during their suspension to further educate them on the cultural impact of their actions.

"All students involved in the incident have shown remorse for their actions and been offered ongoing counselling and support."

The young men - who had chosen to wear deeply offensive costumes that were hurtful to many members of the community - were seriously disciplined by the university. According to Lisa, some were suspended for up to two years.

But they were simultaneously facing a punishment that was harder to trace. How much slamming and shaming by strangers did their acts deserve? Was there ever a point where enough would be enough?

Over the last five weeks, Lisa says she's seen a marked difference in her son.

Her typically confident boy is quiet and withdrawn, and isn't sleeping or eating normally. The impact of the photo, however, has been felt by the entire family. There have been times where Lisa hasn't been able to stop crying.

And now, her son, and many others, have lost a friend.

Andrew, known affectionately as Andy, was likely deeply affected by the public shaming that followed the release of the two photos. Like the others involved, he was crucified online, and, in Lisa's words, he was "humiliated left, right and centre".

"The shaming has killed that boy," Lisa said.

Andrew Stanham. Image via Facebook.
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Andrew's father told The Daily Telegraph his son "copped a lot of vitriol".

"Andy has been petrified to walk down the streets of Wagga," he said.

Mark Stanham is adamant that the stress in the final weeks of his son's life contributed to his death.

Director of Comprehensive Epilepsy Service at Prince of Wales Hospital, Professor Ernest Somerville, told Mamamia that while it's hard to know the effect of stress in this case without knowing more about the type of epilepsy, its treatment, and the circumstances of the death, "stress can provoke seizures but not as often as most people with epilepsy think".

"A much more definite provoking factor is sleep deprivation," he said. "Some forms of epilepsy are more susceptible to sleep deprivation than others. Stress can sometimes provoke a seizure by interfering with sleep, resulting in sleep deprivation."

He could not, however, comment on whether this was relevant to Andrew Stanham's death.

Even if the public shaming directed at Andrew following the controversial party is not found to have contributed to his death, the sad reality is that the 22-year-old spent the last few weeks of his life being abused by strangers. To many, Andrew served as an ideological representation of racism, anti-antisemitism, and political incorrectness - even though that is not what he was.

Mamamia has chosen not to publish the phrases used to specifically describe Andrew in relation to his politically incorrect costume. Of note, however, is that further abusive comments have been levelled against him even after his death was made public.

Lisa - who wanted to remain anonymous to protect her son - wanted me to know that "every single one of these boys comes from an average Australian family".

"We are all people just going along, working, doing normal mundane things," she says. "Then overnight our lives are thrown onto social media where our sons are judged and ultimately so are we. So we go from normal, fly under the radar folk to being slammed and shamed by strangers (and some who are not strangers) from everywhere.

"That was hard. And we couldn’t fight back because that would be a million times worse. So we sit here mortified with our lives being scrutinised by a gang of faceless warriors. That hurts."

"I hope that for Andrew, we can make some people think before they slam someone for a mistake on social media.

"None of us are perfect," she says, "and nobody knows when it can happen to them."

*Name has been changed to protect anonymity. 

For more from Clare Stephens, you can follow her on FacebookInstagram or Twitter.

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