In the wake of nearly a week of grey skies, mental “check-ups” on students and e-mail alerts reminding Cornellians of ways to seek help, a shift in tone became apparent Wednesday afternoon as members of the community united on the Arts Quad to enjoy the sunshine and take part in the student-organized gathering “Lift Your Spirits.”
Following the recent string of student suicides, the event brought more than 1,000 students, staff and faculty together and sought to emphasize a sense of community and togetherness.
“We are trying to find a balance,” said Susan Murphy ’73, vice president for student and academic services. “[The event] does feel celebratory because it is so beautiful but we are trying to find a balance of really more community gathering.”
For more than an hour, students abandoned their library carrels to fold 1,000 paper cranes with members of the Origami Club, throw frisbees and talk with representatives from EARS, a peer counseling service, and Gannett Health Services. Meanwhile, President David Skorton and Dean of Students Kent Hubbell ’67 joined the Chorus and Glee Club in singing Cornell’s traditional “Evening Song" and “Alma Mater.”
“It is important that we come together — heart to heart and face to face — to reconnect with each other and reaffirm the meaning of membership in a caring community,” Skorton said in an address to attendees.
According to Murphy, who has seen Cornell marred by tragedy both during her time as a student and now as an administrator, this year has been “absolutely unparalleled.”
“Here we are at 10 [student deaths] and we’re only at spring break,” Murphy acknowledged as she stressed the importance of community-lead initiatives to combat these hard times.
“This recalls for me a lot of the 9/11 experiences we had when we came together as a community,” Murphy said.
The idea for Lift Your Spirits was born this past weekend when a group of campus leaders came together to discuss what they could do to complement the administration’s aggressive mental health campaign. According to Vincent Andrews ’11, Student Assembly president-elect, e-mails were sent out Saturday night to Cornell Dining and various administrators.
“We got a great response,” Andrews said.
Asa Craig ’11, undergraduate student-elected trustee, described how Lift Your Spirits grew organically with help from mental health professionals at Gannett.
“At first we were considering holding memorials and vigils,” Craig explained. “But we were told by Gannett that we needed to do something more — we needed to talk about the importance of life and talk about how suicide is not a solution.”
Craig said he was planning to give a presentation on mental health to the Board of Trustees, who were meeting in Ithaca this past weekend. The presentation was called off two hours before it was set to begin, however, when Craig and the trustees heard news of William Sinclair’s ’11 death on Thursday.
“That sort of set the tone for the whole weekend,” Craig said.
Services like Gannett’s Counseling and Psychological Services have seen an increase in communication coming from students and parents of students in the past week, according to Catherine Thrasher-Carroll, a health educator at Gannett. Aside from what Gannett and the administration is doing, however, Thrasher-Carroll emphasized the importance of student-lead initiatives, like Lift Your Spirits.
“This is beautiful,” Thrasher-Carroll said of yesterday’s event. “It really is meaningful because it comes from the students.”
“I was talking to a group of students,” she continued. “They were saying that the difference is going to come from us [students] when we take our heads up out of our books and we look around at each other and we connect as human beings.”
Some students like Steven Matthews ’10 expressed concern that Lift Your Spirits may not have reached those students in need of mental assistance.
“I personally love Cornell, cotton candy and celebrations,” Matthews said. “But to do so in light of the recent tragedies seems insensitive to those affected the hardest and marginalizes those who are coping with depression and/or loneliness.”
Andrews said that the students who chose to attend Lift Your Spirits were those “who are more prone to coming to an event like this.” However, he expressed hope that the students who were in attendance would help others in need.
“Maybe they’ll leave with a sense of wanting to reach out to students and understand that Cornell is beyond just our group of friends,” Andrews said. “We have to include others, especially those who don’t seem to be as included in all the events on campus."
Craig echoed this sentiment.
“What we wanted to do is uplift a core of campus,” Craig said. “Everyone that was here that was uplifted and empowered by this ‘move forward’ tone can be productive.”