Cornell Suicides Raise Questions about Ithaca's Gorges

Could Cornell's legendary beauty be killing its students?

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Six deaths in six months have aroused intense concern about student suicide at Cornell University. As Cornell students, professors, administrators, and alums seek explanations for the wave, the big question both on campus and off is this: to what extent are Ithaca's famed and beautiful gorges, into which these students are flinging themselves, a part of the problem?
  • Maybe the Gorges Really Are an Issue  Rob Fishman Cornell alum and current Associate Blog Editor at The Huffington Post, posts an excerpted, adapted version of some of his masters degree work on the Cornell suicides. Though it's commonly said that suicidal persons, barred from a bridge, will simply turn elsewhere to end their lives, he points to a study showing that this isn't actually true: "Richard H. Seiden, then a professor at Berkeley, tracked down 515 people who attempted suicide but were restrained. His findings showed that 90 percent of the would-be victims did not later die of later suicide attempts, and that the notion that 'attempters will surely and inexorably "just go someplace else," is clearly unsupported by the data.'"
  • Yes, Easy Access Is a Factor  "There is evidence," Gawker's Maureen O'Connor reminds readers, "that the availability of impulsive suicide methods increases the likelihood of successful attempts." She reviews Cornell's new "suicide prevention efforts," including a mental health campaign, caution in how the deaths are discussed, and putting guards on the gorge bridges. "All three strategies are wise," she says, but "don't underestimate the third one."
  • Students, Don't Look at the Gorges Cornell history professor Joseph Palermo, notes that Ithaca, where there's little to do but work and mourn the loss of sun, "can be a very, very depressing place." He also writes of students, when a suicide occurs, "[knowing] exactly the kind of forces that could push someone to that point. But it's the gorges, even with their beauty, that make it happen so readily. It's just too easy," he says. His instructions for Cornell students:
during the brutal months of March and April ... go to the Chapter House or to Rulloff's or the Nines join your friends and drink lots of beer and eat pizza and chicken wings and listen to live music every night after you're done studying for your exams and writing your papers. Then go home and crawl into bed. Don't even take a peek at those gorges when you're crossing over them.
  • 'There Never Really Is a Satisfying Explanation,' writes Cornell law professor William Jacobson, "when a young person commits suicide." But he thinks it's time for some self-examination in society and at Cornell. "We need to do a better job helping students keep life in perspective. We place so much pressure on our young people to achieve at an early age."
  • All of Us Need to Do More  "We must be one another's support system," write the editors of The Cornell Daily Sun, the campus newspaper. "The real issues must be faced on a day-to-day basis within our community, and they must be faced proactively ... We have to be vigilant for those we do not know." They mention the effect of academic pressure.
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