The public image of Cornell University, the Ithaca, New York, Ivy League school, changed drastically this month when news broke that a third student in one month had committed suicide by jumping from Cornell's famed gorges, following three other student suicides since October.

The March deaths of Bradley Ginsburg, William Sinclair, and Matthew Zika contributed to the stigma the press attached to the Ivy League school. The gorges' eerie presence on campus didn't help shake the labels. The natural landmarks served as an unusually public stage for suicides, and an all-too-effective reminder of the deaths for students forced to cross them on the way to class.

Cornell's administration responded quickly, posting guards at the bridges overlooking the gorges and sending staff to every campus dorm to search for students struggling to cope. Administrators have created a website compiling news related to the recent deaths and mental-health resources.

It's perhaps logical for the press and public to view the tragedies and Cornell's response with increased concern. What is wrong at Cornell? The questions began. Is such a competitive academic program too much for most young people? But even with the rash of suicides, Cornell is no more a "suicide school" than other similar-sized universities. The Big Ten Suicide Study (1997), the most recent comprehensive study on college suicides, found that students in higher education programs are half as likely as non-college-bound young people to take their own life. The suicide rate for students in higher education is 7.5 per 100,000, compared with the national average of 15 per 100,000 among same-aged counterparts. By these numbers, Cornell, with some 20,000 students, falls within the national average ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.