March 2, 2011

The Necessity of Barriers

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The inherent concept of bridge barriers is a sensitive, hot-button issue. But at a certain point, the barriers must be accepted for what they are, and not be publicized into anything more or less then their inherent function.

Yesterday, the barriers’ lead architect Nader Tehrani presented 21 potential preschematic designs at four separate open forums held on campus and in the City of Ithaca. The designs ranged from vertical bar barriers, to mesh or bar combination coverings, to mesh netting beneath the bridges. Many attendees of the forums continued to advocate that the barriers are irrelevant and will do nothing to stop suicide; an argument that has been used since the University began discussing building the permanent barriers almost a year ago.

The doubters of the barriers’ arguments are ignoring the existence of “impulsive” suicide cases. Numerous studies have shown that cutting off the means to commit suicide can often result in “impulses” passing. By building the barriers, the thousands of students who walk over the bridges each day are met with an immediate resistance to any impulsive thought of self-harm that may come about during a given stressful school week.

To this end, Tehrani’s assertion last week that increased funding for more barriers around the gorges would be beneficial to overall campus safety misses the primary purpose of the barriers entirely.

To build barriers around all edges of the gorges would be unnecessary, unsightly and would be ineffective in preventing the potential for “method substitution.” There will always be additional options for self-harm, even if the entire campus were to be proofed for safety concerns.

The barriers must be accepted as a comprehensive effort on behalf of the University to improve student mental health and stem the overall risk of suicide. They are not a stand-alone measure guaranteed to prevent suicides — indeed, they were never advertised as such. Included in this effort is the recent $1 million investment into Gannett Health Center by the University, which will help a broader range of students than barriers ever will.  The string of forums and verbal commitments by the University only do more to emphasize the fact that the barriers are a smaller part of a broader initiative. Denials that they have any significance, or claims that they must be extended as an all-encompassing safety measure, are flawed.

Whatever form the barriers take, they are crucial to the long-term mission of the University in ensuring the health and safety of its students.