W h en I found out about the most recent suicide at Penn, I immediately picked up my phone to talk to my mother. I had told her of the string of deaths in the Penn community since my own mental health leave, including that of someone I knew personally. On the phone, I asked her if she had heard any news regarding what happened. Unsurprisingly, she had not.
Why is it that when a tuition bill is posted to my account, my parents are notified immediately to pay up, but when it comes to the deaths of our classmates, they are left in the dark?
In February, The Daily Pennsylvanian reported that an email was sent to parents to share with them a number of mental health resources available on campus. But many parents expressed soon afterwards that they were not aware of why the email was even being sent or how the focus on mental health at Penn had come about in the first place. They had no idea how many students had taken their own lives. And this lack of communication is still continuing.
The fact that parents have been so removed from the activities of Penn, only able to rely on what their child chooses to divulge, is very concerning.
Having independence and privacy is an important part of college students’ transition to adulthood. For many, this is the first environment in which we’ve been able to have an academic and social life without fear of constant supervision. We may not want our parents to constantly be able to check up on our grades in an already stressful school environment. But this does not always mean that family is no longer an important support system or that they should have no part in our education except to pay the bills.
This is not to say that a student’s death should mandate full disclosure of all of their personal information against their family’s wishes. Grieving families should not have to be put through any more distress, and their personal privacy should be respected. But all families can and should still be made aware when these losses happen, particularly when they are reoccurring.
There are many students who struggle with mental health issues and are ashamed to talk about them until they know they are in the company of someone they can trust. Families who are well-informed about the true environment of Penn, particularly those of students with previous struggles with mental health, can be a vital resource. This seemingly small intervention can be crucial in ensuring the well-being of a student.
The University, like all other private schools, is a business at the end of the day. Maybe there is a fear that by being completely transparent, potential applicants would be discouraged by their families from attending. After my own hospitalization, my mother considered withdrawing me from Penn altogether. However, dancing around the current state of our student body is very irresponsible for a university that prides itself on an image of prestige.
Furthermore, the handling of these deaths reflects our society’s frequent inability to understand mental health issues and to consider them just as legitimate as physical ones. We are uncomfortable talking about suicide because we are uncomfortable about mental health in general. We label suicide as a cop-out and selfish rather than realizing the factors that went into it. Addressing the problem will require drawing on multiple perspectives of the Penn community in an attempt to not only understand students’ struggles, but to unite as many resources as possible.
I don’t go out of my way to tell my family the most intimate details of my school life. But I know if I was in their position, I would want to have peace of mind when it comes to health and safety. Being uncertain of a child’s well-being is one of the worst things a parent can face. As we continue our conversations on how to help students in need, we must make a greater effort to include the voices of Penn families as well.
Katiera Sordjan is a College junior from New York City studying communications. Her email address is email@example.com. “The Melting Pot” appears every Thursday.Comments powered by Disqus
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