May 2, 2010

Univ. Solicits Community Feedback on Response to Suicides

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More than a month and a half after the latest of a string of suicides rocked campus and brought national media attention to Cornell, the University hosted a forum Friday afternoon to solicit community feedback on plans for moving forward.

“We continue to focus on identifying and reaching those at risk,” Dean of students Kent Hubbell ’67 said. “The purpose of today’s forum is to know what you all are thinking. We want to know how we can make Cornell a better place to live, learn and work.”

The forum was well-attended by faculty and students alike and was filmed for a webcast by the University.

According to Hubbell, there are a number of measures on the table regarding ways to improve student morale and teacher relations with pupils, though the options were not discussed in much detail. Administrators spent a good part of the forum time responding to concerns from the audience.

One issue Susan Murphy ’73, vice president for student and academic services, took note of was exceptionally low median grades for certain classes, especially in the fields of engineering and hard sciences. She mentioned that a number of classes with tests designed for students to achieve an average score of less than 50 percent, a tactic which Murphy believes is deleterious to both GPAs and student morale.

“There are some faculty absolutely opposed to evening exams,” said Dean of the Faculty William Fry. “It’s much too early in the discussion to say what will or will not happen.”

Murphy noted that the services of Gannett Health will continue to be a crucial part of the campus atmosphere. She explained that 14 percent of students use Gannett’s mental health services. Peer institutions, according to Murphy, including other Ivy League members, generally see about 18 percent of their student population utilize mental health initiatives on campus. This gives administrators reason to believe that around 4 percent of students who should be using the counseling at Gannett are not, according to Murphy.

The response to the discussion was generally positive, although students still noted that there are a number of improvements to campus life that remain to be seen in action.

“It was one of the first opportunities I’ve seen to foster productive dialogue,” Eleanor Carmeli ’11 said of the forum. Carmeli, who is president of Hillel at Cornell, sent out an e-mail to her organization’s listserv in response to the suicides earlier in the semester, stressing the importance of “students … reaching out to students.”

“There should be more peer advising in every school,” Carmeli said.

Corey Earle ’07, associate director of student programs in the Office of Alumni Affairs, emphasized the importance of peer-to-peer empathy, as well as faculty interaction with students.

“A lot of times, it’s just the little things that can make a difference,” Earle said.

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Original Author: Brendan Doyle