Stopping suicidal tendencies

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Stopping suicidal tendencies

Cornell University, the elite Ivy League school in Ithaca, New York, is gaining a reputation for something other than the quality of its academic programs: suicide. The school records an above-average suicide rate every year, with an alarming number of stressed-out students jumping from the bridge across the gorge that runs through campus. As a result, the school has been reinforcing counseling and mental therapy services to help reverse the trend, yet the suicides continue.

After three successive suicides last spring, the university’s president, David Skorton, directly addressed the situation in an official statement to students. “Your well-being is the foundation on which your success is built ... If you learn anything at Cornell, please learn to ask for help,” Skorton said in the message.

Student suicides are not just a problem at Cornell. Most other Ivy League institutions also grapple with the same problem. School admissions officers now look at strength of character as well as academic records when accepting students.

The rash of suicides has spread to Korean university campuses as well. Students attending elite schools are under great stress tied to high expectations from their family and society and heated competition. But they often have nowhere to turn to talk about their problems.

The freshman at the elite science and technology academy Kaist who recently committed suicide excelled in robot technology. He even attended an engineering high school to focus his studies in the robot arena and was admitted to the prestigious university in part because of his impressive track record in robot competitions.

But unlike his peers, who received a more formal education as well as language tutoring, he fared poorly in courses taught in English as well as advanced math classes such as calculus. The student struggled to keep up with his peers and felt that should he fail, it would reflect poorly on other students at vocational schools such as the one he attended.

He could have been saved if the school and his peers had been more understanding and supportive. Universities, it’s clear, must put more resources into providing guidance so that promising students don’t give up on life if they stumble. Professors and experts should also help vulnerable students adapt better to school life. Seoul National University is off to a good start, offering around-the-clock phone counseling. Other schools should follow in its footsteps to put an end to this disturbing and heartbreaking trend.
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