Today, GW students grieve the loss of yet another member of the campus community. Even though the cause of death has yet to be confirmed, the possibility that this tragedy marks another student suicide highlights the paramount need of the Walker commission – charged with evaluating University response to student deaths – to release its report and implement quantifiable changes to the status quo.
In response to a student suicide last year, this page argued that while the University cannot be reasonably expected to prevent every student tragedy, it must ensure – through a concerted publicity campaign and much-needed reforms – that it does as much as possible to reach students contemplating suicide. The University created the commission chaired by Associate Dean of Students Mike Walker in an attempt to identify ways the University can improve its outreach to at-risk students and provide resources for others coping with the tragedy. To this date, however, the commission has yet to release its report – months after two tragic losses last spring. It is imperative that the commission release its report and begin implementing change immediately.
While The Hatchet has yet to obtain a copy of the report, students said the commission failed to consult with several groups that could have provided important insights into dealing with student suicides. Students in groups such as The Hatchet, Alpha Phi and the Panhellenic Association – groups touched by a loss last year – could have provided insights useful to the commission in formulating substantial reforms. Unfortunately, these groups were not approached during the commission’s summer meetings. It is imperative that in an attempt to formulate the best response possible, the commission conduct a comprehensive review of student reaction.
While the student body awaits the availability of commission’s report, it is crucial that the University implement some common sense measures to educate students about resources GW extends to at-risk students. In an article on college suicide published by the America Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Dr. Alan Lipschitz argues that a strong university safety net can help prevent suicide. He argues, “While most suicidal students draw little attention to themselves, their multi-year residence in the monitored college environment offers the possibility that a sufficiently determined effort could detect suicidal students and press them into treatment.”
The University should consider placing posters in well-traveled campus locations informing students of the University Counseling Center and suicide prevention hotlines. Officials should consider developing a suicide hotline of their own, where suicidal students could call and speak to GW student-volunteers about their problems. CLLC should look into providing community facilitators with the training needed to help increase the likelihood of identifying at-risk students.
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for college students. This risk is exacerbated by GW’s location in the heart of a large city, which greatly increases the potential for students to develop social isolation – a leading factor for depression. Regardless of the cause of Wednesday’s student death, the University, either through the Walker commission or alternative means – must develop a comprehensive plan to help prevent another tragedy.
This article appeared in the September 9, 2004 issue of the Hatchet.