Letter to the Editor: After a College Suicide, A Campus Needs Healing

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I know the Washington College students are in pain, because four years ago I was one of them.

A fellow student committed suicide on campus grounds in the first week of my senior year. Losing him left a deep, slow-healing wound on everyone. In the following days, the college administration made clear efforts to support the students as they grieved.

Now that I have left, I know that sharing news about this type of death is never simple. Considerations, like whether an announcement would cause more pain, must be made.

With a college that sells itself on being like a small town — and which at times can be as claustrophobic — news travels quickly. By the time then-President Reiss issued a public comment through a campus-wide email, students already knew what happened.

Five hundred students, including myself, stood in Martha Washington Square while Reiss and a pastor held a moment of silence for our classmate and friend.

National studies have found that suicide rates, particularly those among college-aged men and women, are on the rise in America. The suicide rate is 12.5 per 100,000 population among ages 15 to 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Five suicides in the last four years can be connected to Washington College, two of which occurred on campus. Two deaths happened this year, and one occurred weeks ago.

Reports from students on the administration’s response, particularly regarding a student-led vigil to honor their friend, puzzled me. I understand that the administration waited out of respect before announcing the student’s death.

I cannot fathom why students were told not to walk to the same place where four years earlier, hundreds of students mourned.

These students were ordered to grieve out of the public eye, and that is upsetting and offensive to me, as an alumna that shared this experience.

A question to the administration: what has been done to improve mental health care on campus in the last four years?

Is there a plan to increase access to care to students and staff that are hurting? Or a prevention campaign that not only ends the stigma of talking about this, but encourages those to speak out if they see a friend struggle?

I am heartsick of the repeating news of another tragedy at my college. The students may not know me, but I know them. They are not alone.

Katie Tabeling

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