A 19-year-old NYU freshman commit suicide by jumping off the roof of his dormitory this Monday morning. It was the Third North dormitory on East 11th street. Today was the first day of spring classes. Tragic. I went to NYU which has such a notoriously high suicide rate it is known as the “suicide school” amongst a few others and I can’t help but comment on how upsetting it is that this continues to be an issue. I don’t know why NYU in particular creates the perfect storm of triggers for many (and I certainly don’t know if this would have happened had the 19-year-old attended a different school) but when suicide is a recurring theme at your university I think that’s worthy of examination.
Perhaps, it’s the intensity of having to adjust to New York City, the obligatory loneliness of being a college freshman, the stress of expectations and the hopelessness of debt but there’s something going on at my alma mater and many other prestigious schools like it.
At NYU there are so many precautions taken to prevent suicide because it happens so often. To the majority of students these precautions are met with moans and groans because what may save someone else’s life is a minor convenience. The windows only open but a crack and there isn’t any roof or balcony access (as there had been decades ago). Then there is Bobst Library which was typically the place students would go to end their lives.
There was a Bobst suicide when I attended the school and I remember a friend recalling the story that still gives me chills. She was there late at night studying, the library is open 24 hours, then suddenly there was this loud THUMP that shook the entire building. The Bobst Library always creeped me out, even before this suicide there had been a few in the library. The library itself was bursting with stressed students, studying and bustling with anxiety—it was zombie-like and morose in the amount of anxiousness those walls held. I avoided that place like the plague. The library had exposed staircases and was around 10 stories high, I think. You’d walk up to the highest floor and then jump and that would lead you at the center of the building, right in the middle of the entrance. All the walls were transparent and exposed. You’d have an audience, everyone’s attention, if you jumped right into the center.
It was the kind of suicide that made a statement and one has to wonder if that statement was about the university itself. There are many other and more private ways to euthanize yourself but to do so amongst your peers, at your school, that is supposed to mean something. So year after year the staircases at Bobst would have higher and higher “protective panels” until finally the stairs weren’t exposed at all.
But clever architecture and sealed windows isn’t going to stop someone from hurting themselves if that’s what they want. After all, as NYU loves to beat into even the tiniest neurons of each student’s brain: You’re amongst the best and brightest. You got into the #1 dream school! So many applied, thousands, but you got in! Anyone determined to get into NYU is probably determined to their own detriment.
I don’t know what it is about the culture of NYU but I don’t know anyone who looks at their experience there without having a bitter taste in their mouth because NYU has spited them in some way. It’s not a bad school, yes it gave me some of the best times of my life but also some of the worst. I just hope that NYU does a better job acknowledging and handling those “worst” of times. No, NYU shouldn’t take the blame for an individual’s suicide but again I ask, when suicide becomes commonplace at your university, isn’t that worthy of examination?