Last week, an NYU student took his life. While three news sources — including WSN — have reported on it, the university has not released an official statement addressing the loss. Before commenting on the role that NYU decided to take in light of this suicide, we must first recognize that suicide is extremely complex — it’s incredibly difficult to know precisely how best to provide for those in mourning, and for the community at large — especially because our predominant desire is simply to honor and commemorate this loss. With that in mind, we feel the need to acknowledge the socially isolating environment of NYU in which this student took his life and to discuss our desire to see the university balance concerns of suicide contagion and the loss experienced by the larger student body.
In the wake of this tragedy, the newly established results of the [email protected] survey are perturbingly relevant. According to the survey of 695 respondents, over 30 percent of undergraduates at NYU have considered leaving the university, primarily due to a lack of feeling of belonging and community at the school. In reviewing perspectives of accessibility at NYU, the survey saw an overwhelming pattern of student responses displaying “challenges receiving support for mental health service accessibility,” “shortcomings in campus facilities” and “classroom accessibility.” The survey seems to show how tangible these issues really are, and how the lack of a traditional college experience can affect students at NYU.
Reporting these results is not an effort to blatantly criticize NYU services — the Health Center is making an effort at accessibility, as seen in their installation of a new text therapy policy. But there can always be room for improvement. In a school that struggles with the community as much as NYU does, striving to have a more approachable, comfortable Health Center and NYU service system is of the utmost importance. Yes, we all enter NYU with the knowledge that it will be an unconventional campus, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we are automatically prepared for the isolation that is often associated with being “in and of the city.”
Though we want the university to acknowledge the loss and provide the student body with a space to mourn, the lack of response can be explained by their desire to exercise caution given NYU’s history of student suicides. In 2003, two students died by suicide within five weeks of each other and in the 2003-2004 academic year, a total of five students took their lives. During that extremely devastating academic year, NYU implemented a 24-hour hotline to connect students to mental health services.
Naturally, NYU has since sought to prevent more suicides and is particularly mindful of suicide contagion — a phenomenon when any exposure to suicide can result in increased suicidal behavior.
“For that reason, if we believe that refraining from sending a broad communication can reduce the chances of a contagion effect, we are more than willing to absorb any resulting criticism,” NYU Spokesperson John Beckman said. There has even been psychology research that public memorials could result in a cluster of suicides, especially by those who are already considering taking their own lives.
We ask NYU to take into account how the student body finds out the news regarding a fellow community member. With three articles already floating around social media, many students stumble upon the news inadvertently. A quick, misunderstood conclusion that could be drawn from NYU’s silence is that our university doesn’t perceive the loss of the community. We are even more prone to conclude that our community, starting at the highest level, is not invested. If NYU were to publicly acknowledge the incident, then perhaps we would be able to feel seen by our administrators and to have the opportunity to convene and mourn together.
Of course, the action would depend on how the family would like the university to respond, but we feel that it’s important to voice this desire that we have as students. Because if we are indeed a community, then coming together to commemorate this loss is a vital aspect of the grieving process.
If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or the Suicide Crisis Line at 1-800-783-2433.
At NYU, contact the Wellness Exchange at 212-443-9999.
Opinions expressed on the editorial pages are not necessarily those of WSN, and our publication of opinions is not an endorsement of them.
A version of this appeared in the Tuesday, Oct. 9 print edition.
Email the WSN Editorial Board at [email protected].