Moses Shumow had the office next to mine at Florida International University. A tenured professor and the driving force behind our digital program, he had a breadth and depth of knowledge about journalism education and FIU politics that was immensely helpful in my transition from an editor at the Los Angeles Times to the occasionally Byzantine world of academia.
Despite the heavy burdens of his workload and the fact he had a desperately ill child, he was rarely without a laugh or his apparently trademarked smile. I often marveled that he took on the struggles of his life with more joy than people with even a tenth of his challenges.
So I was saddened when he announced last spring that he was leaving us to take a job at Emerson College in Boston. It was a huge loss for the school, as he was constantly pushing our students to master the skills they would need to succeed as journalists in this Wild West industry of ours.
And it was a slap-in-the-face shock when I received a note from a long-dormant WhatsApp group of my former students that he died Tuesday after being struck by a train in a Boston suburb. Shumow, age 42, was riding his bicycle in Beverly, Massachusetts when he was hit by a commuter train on a pedestrian cut-through near the station, according to Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority Transit police. He was taken to a hospital where he later died.
Shumow, who worked at FIU for nearly a decade, is remembered by students and colleagues as passionate, kind, and engaging.
“I think he moved his students, not only in terms of their knowledge and their skills, but in their hearts,” says FIU Journalism Chair Teresa Ponte, her voice cracking from emotion. “He cared about society, about the future, the community, and the world.”
The death is not the only recent difficulty to face the Shumow family. In August 2017, their 6-year-old son was struck by a disease that attacked his liver and kidneys and left him unable to breathe on his own for about a month, according to a GoFundMe page set up to defray medical costs. Though he has slowly gotten better in the intervening years, he still requires significant care.
When Shumow announced to his colleagues that he was leaving FIU, he cited the fact that the Boston area had the doctors his son needed as the primary reason for the move. The frequent travels to Atlanta, the nearest city with the needed specialists, were becoming too much.
Yesterday, a second GoFundMe page was set up to help raise money for the family. Already, nearly $30,000 has been donated.
In an email, his wife Rosie Shumow thanked friends and family for their prayers and support and asked them to remember her husband for “his big, boisterous laugh, his conviction to making the world better by living his truths, and his loyalty to family and friends.”
“Moses was my best friend, life partner and true love,” she wrote. “While I know he wants me to carry on with strength, I know that I do not – that I cannot – bear the weight of grief alone.”
Shumow had just started teaching at Emerson, the school where he had received his master’s degree in 2001. Prior to receiving his Ph.D. in communications from the University of Miami in 2010, he spent nearly a decade in documentary film, producing work for Discovery, PBS, and National Geographic.
At FIU, he worked on several projects focused on marginalized and vulnerable communities, including one about gentrification in Liberty City, as well as a project focused on Stonybrook, a mobile home park with disadvantaged residents in Palm Beach County.
Anabelle Torres, a senior at FIU and the general manager of the campus radio station The Roar, says Shumow was one of her mentors. He helped her get a fellowship designed to lead people to become professors themselves, and she planned on applying to Emerson’s program to study with him. Though she isn’t sure where she’ll end up now, she says she’s definitely continuing on to graduate school.
“He’s definitely a big inspiration as to why I’m applying in the first place,” she says.
Torres remembers how caring Shumow was when listening to stories from elderly residents while working on the Liberty City project.
“He was just such a kind soul,” she says, “the way he laughed and the way he talked to everyone. He gave people a voice when they didn’t have one.”
Rodrigo Miragaya, another former student, worked with Shumow in a class that produced promotional videos for nonprofit organizations. He says the professor had a huge impact on his career.
“Dr. Shumow used to say that as journalists we have a responsibility to our community, to marginalized groups,” says Miragaya, now a production assistant at Univision.
Ponte remembers the way Shumow seemed to hold students’ attention. When he was working the room, they never seemed to be distracted by their phones or computers.
“I walked into his classroom once and I could see the focus and, if you will, the light in the eyes of the students,” she says.
In a statement, Emerson College called the incident an “unimaginable tragedy,” and FIU Provost Kenneth G. Furton expressed profound sadness for the loss. Brian Schriner, the dean of FIU’s College of Communication, Architecture, and the Arts, said Tuesday that the college community was “saddened by the sudden and tragic passing.”
“Moses was loved and respected by all who knew him,” Schriner said in the statement. “He was kind and caring, and he made a tremendous difference in the lives of his students, colleagues, and community. Our deepest sympathies to his wife and family.”
Mercedes Vigon, an associate journalism professor at FIU, praised Shumow’s bravery for taking on issues and causes that few others wanted to.
“He showed that you can have a short life but one that has such a huge impact on many people,” she says. “And that, that’s what’s shaking me. I don’t have patience for tomorrow.”
Nondenominational services for Shumow will be held Sunday at 2 p.m. at First Baptist Church, 221 Cabot St., in Beverly, Massachusetts.
This story has been updated to accurately reflect the time of Shumow’s memorial service.