August 22, 2011

A Time to Act

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Cornell is mourning the loss of two students who lost their lives in the Fall Creek gorge on June 2. While their deaths were unrelated, these are but the most recent manifestations of a long line of deaths that have occurred in the Fall Creek area. It was just a month earlier that another student lost his life in the same way.

All deaths at Cornell are extremely sad. However, I find the Fall Creek fatalities to be more than just saddening; they are exceedingly frustrating. This frustration stems from the fact that the deaths at Fall Creek are highly avoidable. Cornell needs to take action to prevent these unnecessary and totally preventable fatalities: The University must block off access to Fall Creek gorge.

It is very difficult for me to ask Cornell to close off one my favorite places on campus. Fall Creek gorge provides many with a refuge from the hectic life on the Hill; I often go down to the gorge to relax. There are few places that can compete with its natural beauty and incredible swimming spots. Furthermore, blocking off the entrances to Fall Creek will penalize those individuals who use caution when enjoying the gorge’s many wonders, since most people who go down to the gorge do not engage in risky activity. Some come to wade in the shallow pools; many others do not even go into the water. It does not seem fair that everyone has to suffer because of the risks taken by a few people.

Unfortunately, there will always be individuals who go swimming in the gorge. There will always be people who climb up the gorge. And, if the gorge remains open, we can expect to continue to receive messages of condolence from President Skorton.

I have engaged in those risky activities that have caused all this suffering. The recent deaths have forced me to think critically about my past decisions. When taking the risks, I understood the danger of climbing and swimming in the gorge. However, my sense of confidence and self-exceptionalism overrode my sense of fear. My actions were driven by a foolish sense of invincibility.

I, for one, will never swim in the Fall Creek gorge again. However, there are many others who have yet to be deterred by the danger of swimming in the gorge. If the University does not close off the gorge, some of these individuals will die.

I do not intend to blame Cornell for the deaths at Fall Creek. This is a moment for contemplation and action, not for finger pointing. A threshold has been passed, and now we must act as a community to prevent further suffering. Too many deaths have occurred in a very concentrated area, and I implore the University to act to prevent these avoidable tragedies.

— Adam Baratz ’11

Adam Baratz graduated from Cornell in May 2011. He may be reached at agb68@cornell.edu. Guest Room appears periodically this semester.