It was with a mix of great sadness and severe frustration that I read about the death of Wharton junior Olivia Kong yesterday. Preliminary reports from SEPTA police confirm that Kong’s death was the result of a suicide. If those reports are accurate, and they seem to be, Kong’s death would be the 10th suicide in the last threeyears of a student attending the University of Pennsylvania. Such numbers are jarring and they should have the administration, faculty, students, parents and alumni on full alert, because there is a crisis at Penn that collectively we are making very little progress in addressing.
If 11 Penn students would have died from something else — like tuberculosis for instance — during the same time frame, there would be campus-wide protests demanding that Penn immediately address the problem head-on, and if they did not do so earnestly and effectively, votes of no confidence would surely follow. However, we treat suicide very differently in part because we do not understand it very well and in part because often times we miss the signals of depression and stress in those we love and care about until after it is far too late.
While I understand that the administration has attempted to address student suicides recently with programs and making counseling services more available, it is quite obviously not enough. When you have an epidemic, like Penn does now, you have to address the issue in a meaningful and impactful way as an institution so that everyone knows where you stand on the problem and how you are going to go about addressing it.
As such, I would humbly suggest that Penn consider enacting a suicide prevention day in the immediate future where classes would be cancelled and students, faculty and administrators would mandatorily participate in a variety of symposiums, workshops and meetings where everyone is educated on the topic of suicide prevention, as well as how to deal with stress and depression as it relates to the uber-competitive environment at Penn. I understand such a proposal is drastic and would require a lot of resources from the administration, but when you have a crisis such as this, you need to lead boldly and not sit back and hope for the problem to go away.
There is simply no question that the students who attend Penn are the best of the best and have been high achievers their entire lives. While to them a low grade in one class or a lost internship may seem like the end of the world, those of us a little longer in the tooth know that in the grand scheme of things such occurrences mean very little.
It is therefore incumbent upon us — the administration, faculty and alumni — to make sure this message is communicated often and directly, and that students understand that the Penn community doesn’t just care about your grades and job prospects. It cares about you as a person and is willing to help you in any way it can with the considerable resources it has at its disposal.
We need to work together on this issue because if we simply maintain the status quo, we will likely all be opening up the Philadelphia Inquirer or The Daily Pennsylvanian shortly and reading about the 11th suicide at Penn in three years. And frankly, I’m sick of it.
CHRIS CORSI is a ‘00 Wharton alum.
A previous version of this letter referred to "11 suicides," this has since been corrected to "10 suicides."
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