“We all know one of these guys, right? Intense. They worry about taking a test, and then they get a 96 and they’re like, ‘where’s my four points?’!”
I’m sitting in a meeting of LUCHA, a Latino-based student club at New York University, and the topic this Wednesday night is suicide. There’s about twenty, twenty-five students seated in front of two discussion leaders, Mark and Stephanie. Mark just has just told his own story about pressure in high school, and gotten a laugh. But the topic is serious, and Mark knows this. That’s why LUCHA is having this meeting.
There have already been two suicides on the NYU campus in the first term of the 2007 -2008 year, Allan Oakley Hunter and Pranay Angara. Yearly surveys from the American College Health Association say that the average suicide rate for college-age kids is seven in 100,000. If you consider the number of students currently at NYU (college and graduate) there should be two deaths per year, every year, from suicide.
Not to let schools off the hook, keep in mind that the rate for kids not in college is double this, about fourteen out of every 100,000 non-students in the U.S.
The LUCHA meeting tonight followed a presentation by three women from an organization called The Icarus Project. Icarus is non-profit group that has presented on campus before, and tries to stress the creative and life-affirming aspects of what the mainstream psychological world would call mental illness. By taking this view, Icarus tries to provide a forum for openness and support for people with mental health issues, and recognizes that a lot of the fear a person has in asking for help is the feeling that their doctor will try and provide this “help” by taking away their personality. The Icarus viewpoint is that mental problems are not always a disease that has to be eliminated, but can be an important part of a person’s self that they should try and embrace. The real problem is with how mental illness has been stigmatized, and they mean to change this.
Whether you agree with them or not, their overall message is openness and we couldn’t need this more. After the Icarus group left for another function, the LUCHA meeting continued with people voicing their reactions about The Icarus Project, the reasons for campus suicides, and the NYU administration’s response. One person felt the University was doing the right thing by installing jump-proof Plexiglas around the Bobst atrium balconies. Some felt it was weird that the University hires a guard who sits in a chair on the top floor of their Palladium dorm, doesn’t talk to anyone, is cranky, and now has the job of watching the door to the roof (which needs to be unlocked for fire regulations).
But should the University be more open about the suicide problem? By not holding public forums where students can voice their concerns to administrators, and administrators can openly voice their own fears, you have a bizarre situation where someone dies, no one from the NYU administration is allowed to say a word, and a new piece of Plexiglas is installed. Sensing the dead student’s desperate need to communicate and seeing the school’s fear of acknowledgement, only makes the disconnect problem more palpable.