I would like to share some of my thoughts regarding recent unfortunate events on campus, and what I believe are unfortunate responses.
We have been presented with the result of an action and we are attempting to find its cause. In the scenario of suicide, the victims can no longer speak for themselves and answer our eternal question: “Why?” We feel this type of action requires justification, that this question needs answering, so we look within ourselves and ask: “What would have caused me to do the same thing?”
I have heard many express their opinions regarding the College of William and Mary’s action, or lack thereof, with regards to mental health: the administration is at fault for not providing adequate resources to combat mental health issues; professors have made our courses too difficult to handle; we were all “at the top of our high school class.” These opinions lead to the conclusion that the College is setting us up for disappointment and not giving us the resources to deal with it. I have heard many posit or imply that this is the cause of the recent string of suicides on campus. I believe this is wrong.
It is the easy answer: Pressures of academia, pressures of adjusting from being the smartest fish in the pond to the average fish, and pressures of fitting in are common experiences among William and Mary students. Because we all experience these same challenges and therefore know the mental strain that accompanies them, it is the convenient answer to the question, “What would have caused me to do the same thing?”
However, this is extremely unfair. Suicide is a complicated emotional decision. To ascribe one cause to its incomprehensible complexity, to say there is one reason this decision was made, to speak on behalf of someone who can no longer speak, is disgraceful. While we may think we have found the answer, that we knew their struggles and their reasons, it is something that will truly forever remain unknown and should be left alone.
Furthermore, the blame of the College for these suicides is unjust. First, I am confident that the College is aware enough to recognize that they have a problem on their hands and are working hard to fix it. This is not an easy issue to tackle, and let us not forget that this institution is comprised of human beings – treat them as such. Second, and more importantly, it is not the institution itself but the students who create this culture of pressure, this supposed reason for the tragic events. We create this culture: we encourage overcommitting ourselves with extracurricular activities, we encourage long hours of studying in Swem, and we encourage each other to do better, to do more.
It is on us. It is not on our professors for challenging us in the classroom. We come to this school because we want the academic challenges. It is not on the administration for choosing its best applicants. We come to this school because we want to surround ourselves with high-caliber students.
It is on us. It is on us to encourage each other to take a break; it is on us to remind each other that GPA does not equate to self-worth; it is on us to offer each other help in times of need.
It is on us.
We are One Tribe, One Family.
Email James Szabo at firstname.lastname@example.org.