September 20, 2010

Caring Communities

Print More

Sunday’s “Reach Out” walk for suicide prevention represented more than just another well-executed event to build awareness — it was symbolic of the inspiring way that the Cornell, Ithaca College and Ithaca communities have come together for the shared goal of preventing suicide. Since the suicide cluster last spring, the University has enjoyed unwavering support from students and community members for its mental health and safety initiatives. The proactive aid from the Ithaca Common Council and Mayor Carolyn Peterson has been commendable, and may have even helped save a life over the summer when emergency personnel had time to respond to an incident in which a young woman text messaged a friend her intentions to take her own life.Since the original chain link fences were installed on all bridges over Spring Break, few have disagreed that they are a grim blemish on the scenery. Peterson herself stated that she did not like the fences and hoped for an “under the bridge” solution rather than fences or coverings. Longtime area residents and students alike have understandably bemoaned the bridge fences’ marring presence over Ithaca’s defining and beautiful geological features. But many have reached the consensus that some sort of bridge barriers are, ultimately, an important and worthwhile modification to the landscape in order to keep people safe.In the last seven months, the administration has transitioned from talking about “bridge barriers” to talking about “means restriction.” While this rhetorical switch seems like a carefully-crafted public relations decision, it still implies that the University’s sole interest is eliminating possible methods of suicide, regardless of whether or not the solution includes traditional barriers. The administration must keep this distinction in mind as it drafts plans for architectural modifications that will restrict means without being the sort of large, unsightly “barriers” that have been the object of so much community criticism.Despite ongoing anxieties about when the fences will come down, and what the modifications will look like, it is a positive sign that activism and awareness campaigns such as the Reach Out walk are still prevalent seven months after the suicide cluster. All too often, public interest in the weeks and months following these sorts of tragedies diminishes to the point of nonexistence. The fact that students and community members are still engaged in discussions about suicide suggests that the oft-talked about “new mindset” on mental health has emerged from the summer break as strong as it was last spring.It is incredibly encouraging that the University, community members and local politicians have all put aside their differences and worked steadfastly to avoid a suicide cluster like that of last spring. Ultimately, it is Cornell’s responsibility to look out for the safety of its students, but the engaged local involvement is indicative of the community’s support for the University and its recognition that Ithaca will be a better place with safer bridges. Only through continued cooperation and consensus among the involved parties can we reach a solution that is more than a stopgap and an eyesore.