Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The suicide bridges of Cornell

You may have heard that three Cornell students committed suicide in as many weeks recently, each jumping off a campus bridge into one of Ithaca's famed gorges. Cornell responded immediately and earnestly, producing (and strongly encouraging faculty to watch) videos about suicide prevention, reaching out to the shaken and unnerved student body, and even posting guards on campus bridges.

There haven't been any more incidents since. The guards are gone, but we're all left with a very visual reminder of what happened: Cornell recently put up extra-high chain link fences along all the bridges.

When the suicides were happening, I found myself getting mildly creeped out by Ithaca's tourism slogan, "Ithaca is Gorges." It brought to mind something very sad instead of something very beautiful. But over time, those feelings passed and I was able to pass the gorges while admiring the waterfalls and stunning vistas, and nothing else.

These new chain link fences have brought back all the negative gorge associations. I understand why they're there, and I hope they fulfill their purpose. I also hope Cornell and Ithaca come up with a more permanent solution soon that doesn't scream SUICIDE at me every time I see it. Ithaca's gorges aren't going away, after all. Surely there's a way to make the bridges safer while also not making us all feel like a chain-link fence is the only thing keeping us from leaping to our deaths?


Sarah Rose Evans said...

I read an article in the NYT not so long ago about how suicide is easily prevented by even the slimmest of protection; in Washington they put up high fences along a bridge with the lowest ledges, and expected a higher number of suicides on other bridges, but since the ledges on the other bridge were only SIX INCHES higher, that was enough to deter potential suicides. I guess the impulsive nature of suicide is curbed by obstacles, and if the person has to think about it and overcomes them it gives them enough of a chance to think about it and then avoid death by getting help. I thought the article was really interesting. So while the fences may remind you of suicide, maybe they can also have a positive connotation-- helping other people avoid making a too- permanant decision.

Trina said...

At least I won't have to worry about my children, climbing and jumping to their deaths. I don't think that even my climbing-monkey-kids could scale those fences.

robin said...

oh, i have so been wanting to write something about this as well! but i didn't know how to. you did a great job.

isn't it so weird? those fences? i have the eeriest feeling driving thru campus and seeing those fences. it's so... so... obvious. and you're right about the ithaca slogan. it just has a different "ring" to it after all the suicides.

have you read this article?

Jeanerbee said...

I remember on a trip to San Diego we were crossing a huge bridge to Coronado Island, and there were permanent signs posted all along the bridge for the suicide hotline ... I had the same "creepy" feelings you mentioned. It's very sad to me that someone could feel so hopeless to make that choice.

Katie said...

I'm not sure why, but this post reminds me a lot of my growing up years in Oregon City. It's a fairly uneventful place, but we've sure had a lot of strange and saddening deaths for being an "uneventful place."

When I was little a girl that lived two houses down from me and across the street was murdered by a drug addict that was staying with the family. I remember going to visit her gravestone in the local cemetery when I was little. There was a picture of a lamb on her gravestone.

When I was a freshman in high school Ashley Pond and Marissa Gaddis (two middle school girls) went missing. My older sister was a "Big Sister" to Ashley Pond in the Big Brother Big Sister program when Ashley was in grade school, so I didn't know Ashley very well, but I had walked to school with her a few times. I knew who she was. A search for these girls went on for months. Finally the police found their bones buried in a cement slab in the back yard of their killer, a man who lived at the top of the hill next to the girls' apartment complex where the kids from that complex waited for the school bus. The words "cement slab" make me think of nothing else but those girls and their bones being buried in his back yard. Young girls didn't walk around Oregon City alone anymore after that. To this day I can still remember their faces from the missing person signs that hung around the whole town for months. Like those old "Proud to be an American" signs that people printed off and taped in their car windows after 9-11, the missing person signs stayed up and the printer ink faded.

There was a cat woman who lived at the head of our dead-end street name Sharon. Her house smelled terrible. And she never let anybody go inside it. She lived alone. She was a member of our ward, but I don't remember her ever really going to church. But my step dad was her home teacher, so there was a while there where she came to our house for dinner every Sunday. She gave my mom a blue and white striped apron that I really like. She gave my brother a painting of a dragon and a wizard. A few years later Sharon moved away. It was some time after that when my mom read in the paper that Sharon's daughter had been arrested. Apparently Sharon's daughter had hired a hit man to kill a couple of people at her work. Well, when the hit man turned out to be an undercover cop, Sharon's daughter had asked if she could get off a little easier if she told the cops some dirt on her mom. I guess they said yes because that's when it came out that Sharon had murdered her husband several years earlier. She had killed him and made it look like he had a heart attack while cutting wood out in the back yard.

That was in 1986. The year I was born.

Bridget said...

Katie, I totally remember those missing OC girls. I was not living at home anymore when it happened but it still affected me deeply. You have too many sad stories to tell.


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