“You are loved” — this is the message that students will be chalking all over campus today as part of a national campaign to prevent suicide among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.
This is the first year that the campaign is taking place at Penn. The timing is uncanny, according to College freshman Noah Levine, an organizer of the campaign, as it follows a string of five suicides among LGBT youth that took place in the last three weeks.
“It’s very, very shocking,” he said, referring to the death of Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University freshman who committed suicide on Sept. 22 after his roommate secretly filmed his sexual encounter and streamed it live on the internet.
“It happened right nearby to someone our age, going through much of the same things — going to a new school, coming to terms with being himself in a new environment,” Levine said.
Three of the five recent suicides involved individuals of high-school age and younger, according to the Consortium of Higher Education. One included a students at Johnson and Wales University in Providence, R.I..
Suicide rates among LGBT individuals have always been high. According to The New York Times, teenagers that identify as LGBT are four times more likely to consider suicide than their straight counterparts.
Denise Lensky, a psychologist and deputy director at Counseling and Psychological Services, attributed this to the fact that LGBT individuals may feel “marginalized and alienated.”
They may be reluctant to seek help as “the mental-health world in general has a checkered path dealing with LGBT issues,” she said. “In the not-too-distant past, being gay was considered a psychiatric disorder but that is not how anyone looks at it today.”
According to Lensky, CAPS collaborates with the LGBT Center to offer individual and group therapy catered to students.
Qspace, the LGBT Center’s anonymous online chat room, also offers a forum for students to share their concerns, according to LGBT Center Director Bob Schoenberg.
“Even when Penn is nationally recognized as an accepting and supportive environment for LGBT students, it is vital for us not to become self-satisfied and rest on our laurels,” Schoenberg wrote in an e-mail. “We need to be proactive in educating everyone to avoid tragedies such as what happened at Rutgers and several other sites in the last several weeks.”
Penn was hit by a similar tragedy last fall when College sophomore Alex Ryles reportedly committed suicide. Ryles was gay, confirmed a junior and leader in the LGBT community who wished to remain anonymous.
“Within the community, there were people who were saying that he was dealing with issues surrounding his sexuality,” a College senior also involved in the LGBT community said.
College junior Stefano Di Tommaso, who helped to organized the “You Are Loved” Campaign, expressed hopes that it will help students remember the basic principle of “take care of yourself.”
“With Penn being such a gay-friendly community, people might forget that there are those among us that are really struggling with it,” he said.
Di Tommaso reiterated the importance of the campaign’s mantra: “Know the facts. Know where to get help. Reach out to someone.”
The "You Are Loved" chalking event — which invites students to write positive messages — will be taking place on Locust Walk and at the Button from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. today.
“It’s definitely the little things that can brighten someone’s day,” Di Tommaso said.