Fenced in

01Apr10

Fences on the Cornell Collegetown bridge

You may have heard: Cornell has had a total of 6 suicides this year, 3 in the space of a single decidedly sobering month. Although we sort of have a reputation as a school where this is frequent, before this year it hadn’t happened at all since 2006, and only sporadically before that.

Clearly it was important for the University to take strong action to prevent this from happening again, and they definitely have. There’s been a great deal of outreach from the administration urging people to get help if they felt depressed or otherwise abnormal, and to do the same for their friends. This went as far as RAs going door-to-door in the dormitories asking people if they were OK. Pretty much everyone is in agreement that this was the right thing to do.

There’s less consensus about the University’s next step: the chain-link fences around the bridges above our iconic gorges. They’re ugly and they detract from the appearance of the area, no doubt about it. There is an argument to be made that they’re just a reminder of the horrible things that have happened, and aren’t improving anyone’s mood. I’ve heard a lot of people put forward the claim that, “If someone wants to kill himself, a fence isn’t going to do any good.”

This idea is innately intuitive, but like many innately intuitive ideas, it’s wrong. There have been numerous studies that have shown that although there are often warning signs for suicide, the act itself is usually impulsive, and people can be persuaded to call it off even with minor impedances, like a fence. While I agree that the fences shouldn’t be permanent (the higher-ups have already said that the fences are temporary while they find a better long-term solution), I think this is for the best. If it prevents even one more tragedy this year, it’s worth the unsightly appearance.

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