Death U?

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Cornell University is trying very hard to counter the perception that it’s a “suicide school.” According to an article by Jennifer Epstein at Inside Higher Ed, in the wake of a recent suicide:

The university has stationed police officers and security guards on all of the bridges that cross Cornell’s gorges, and extended the hours of several campus counseling options. Over the weekend, staff members knocked on the door of every on-campus residence to check on students. Faculty members have been told to be especially sensitive to students’ needs and “to help put the academic rigor that we know is part of Cornell in proper perspective,” [Cornell’s vice president for student and academic services, Susan] Murphy, said.

Apparently Cornell is now looking out for its students.

There are two reasons Cornell is known as the suicide school. The first is that Cornell is notoriously difficult. Unlike many selective schools, which have a reputation for easy grading policies, it’s notoriously difficult to earn As at Cornell. The easiest ivy to get into, the saying goes, the hardest to graduate from.

The other reason Cornell is known as the suicide schools is the gorges, the deep ravines all around the college. When Cornell students commit suicide they do so by jumping off bridges into the gorges. Every suicide is dramatic and everyone pays attention.

According to the Epstein article:

“It’s well known that Cornell has a reputation as a ‘suicide school,’ which is not consistent with the reality of the statistics,” [Cornell’s director of mental health initiatives, Timothy] Marchell said. “And so we’ve asked ourselves, well, what leads to this, what contributes to that misperception?”

Well that sort of depends on how one interprets those statistics. Cornell was suicide free for several years and Cornell’s suicide rate was about 5.6 per 100,000 students. The national average was about 7.5 fatal incidents per 100,000 students. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology experienced 10.2 deaths per 100,000 between 1990 and 2001.

But then, during the same period 11 MIT students committed suicide. That’s one student a year. When Ithaca police found the body of Cornell junior Matthew Zika, at the bottom of Fall Creek Gorge on March 12th that was Cornell’s sixth apparent suicide this academic year alone.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer