NYU Puts Its Reputation Before Student Wellness

Among other secretive measures, NYU does not track suicides. But what does the university have to gain from this?

Abby Hofstetter, Opinion Editor

NYU has something of a reputation for being secretive with information — its fiscal 2020 budget, which was supposed to be released in June, has not yet been published; it has hidden health hazards from students; it has kept students in the dark on vital resources. In a 2018 investigation, WSN found that NYU follows this pattern to a fault: the university doesn’t track suicides.

But what does it mean for NYU to not track suicides? What does it mean for the university to selectively release crucial information about students’ wellbeing?

By now, we all know that two students died of suicide over the course of the last academic year. But these are only the confirmed cases — because NYU does not track suicides, students are left to discover the information on their own. The two students who died last academic year could just be the tip of the iceberg. Maybe the number is significantly higher. When I ask other students, the number always changes — one student says that three students have died this semester, another says it’s four and yet another says there’s been one death each month. We have no way of getting reliable information unless the university decides to disclose it or a news outlet decides to report on it. No one knows for sure; no one will ever know for sure.

NYU not tracking suicides also means that students also find out about their peers’ deaths from sources that are a lot less considerate than an email from the Wellness Exchange. Students found out about an October 2018 student suicide largely via a graphic New York Post article, which featured a photo of the student in a body bag. Students are then left to cope with these deaths on their own. NYU does contact and offer counseling to the families and roommates of all students who die by suicide, but these students’ friends have no way to find out, let alone have a direct pathway to the SHC’s counseling resources, which are hard to gain access to in the first place. After the October suicide, students turned to “NYU Memes for Slightly Bankrupt Teens” for comfort, and the page rebranded to “NYU Memes for Wholesome Teens” for a day. But more than this, selectively releasing information on student suicides means that NYU can create its own reputation — one that isn’t tarnished by student deaths.

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That’s not to say that nominally tracking deaths would be a seamless solution. When schools begin to track suicides, an unsettling pattern often emerges: in an attempt to preserve its reputation, a school will begin to send any and all students with signs of suicidal ideation or potential self harm to psychiatric facilities so that if they die, they don’t die on school grounds. 

NYU has consistently shown that it prioritizes its reputation. It didn’t tell students about health hazards at Palladium Food Court and Upstein, and instead bragged about the dining halls that had passed their health inspections. President Andrew Hamilton loudly supported DACA recipients in the NYU community, but the university has yet to meet the concrete demands of UnDoc NYU, which has maintained that NYU’s support is “a facade.” After the October 2018 suicide, university spokesperson John Beckman denied that NYU could possibly be responsible. Based solely on this track record, I can’t confidently say that NYU wouldn’t put its reputation first if it began tracking suicides.

The solution to this is obvious: NYU needs to stop putting its reputation before its students’ wellbeing. But this is easier said than done. How can we change an entire institution’s priorities? What does NYU have to gain from reprioritizing its initiatives?

The future seems bleak, and the past doesn’t inspire much optimism. I don’t know what to do but hope for a solution — or, more accurately, hope for NYU to stop putting its reputation before its students.

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 article appeared in the Monday, Dec. 2, 2019 print edition. Email Abby Hofstetter at [email protected]

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