Mental health issues took center stage this spring as the University witnessed three highly public suicides from campus bridges in the course of less than a month. In total, the student body lost six of its members to suicide and five to other causes this academic year. National media descended on campus and all eyes turned to Cornell as our shaken campus struggled to grapple with what happened.
The University responded immediately after the third death in mid-March by placing 24-hour security guards on all bridges over campus to keep watch. Guards patrolled the bridges until spring break, when the the City of Ithaca and Cornell agreed to construct chain-linked fences barring access to the bridges.
University officials have maintained that the fences are a short term solution to prevent further tragedy while longer term solutions are being devised. The fences, however, have aroused much controversy, as members of the community have protested the obstruction of the gorges’ natural beauty. Though the fences on city-owned bridges are set to be removed at the beginning of June, it remains to be seen whether bridges on University-owned fences will also be removed.
Other immediate responses to the deaths included the expansion of mental health outreach services, personal check-ins on all students living on campus, a “Lift Your Spirits” event, and extended hours for counseling services.
The suicides have also brought back discussions of Cornell’s grim reputation as a “suicide school”. Though officials continue to claim that the University’s suicide rate is in keeping with the national average, many began to question whether Cornell takes enough proactive measures to prevent student tragedies. Changing the “culture of Cornell” has become a buzzword on campus. Others have called for the University to tinker with the academic calender in order to lessen the time period between breaks.
As most students depart for the summer break, the University will continue to reassess and change its current policies.