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Learning from the Cornell Suicides

The Ivy League school's six suicides in six months serve to remind us of the people in our networks who are struggling privately.

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 ...

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