There’s been a rash of suicides at my alma mater this year. Cornell has long had a reputation as a “suicide school,” and six deaths in six months don’t help. The geographic features of the campus may be contributing factors.
The mountainous region of upstate New York is breathtakingly beautiful. Cornell is perched on a hill in Ithaca, a small town with a highly educated population and a leftist bent. (I loved Ithaca, oh yes I did.) A number of creeks have carved paths through the hills, resulting in deep and dramatic gorges. Therefore, getting from point A to point B on campus often involves crossing a bridge. As you might suspect, jumping off the bridges is the most popular method of committing suicide at Cornell.
Here is the most notorious suspect: the Suspension Bridge.
It’s high. It’s secluded. It beckons.
This essay in the New Yorker suggests that the Golden Gate Bridge, also a frequent jump site, is irresistible to the depressed and miserable—like having a loaded gun on the kitchen table.
When I was a freshman, upperclassmen told me and my compatriots that the University always hung nets under the bridges at exam time. This turned out to be a fool-the-freshmen lie. Now, however, it seems the University has taken action. They’ve erected fences on the bridges, and posted security guards.
I can’t decide which part of this story is the most horrifying. That six young people with presumably bright futures felt compelled to end their lives? That the school, which does not, as far as I can recall, drive students to suicide has been unjustly castigated for these events? That the beautiful campus has been marred by barriers and guards reminiscent of a prison camp?
Is it Cornell’s job to protect students from the lure of the bridges?
I lived in this building
About the title of this post: One sunny Saturday, Evan and I headed out to catch a movie downtown. Rather than the usual, boring route, we decided to take a shortcut by climbing down into the gorge and following it into town. This did turn out to be fast, because we slid/fell much of the way down the hill, emerging with wet feet and bruised butts. I was taking a creative writing class at the time and turned the adventure into a poem, which I titled Falling Down the Gorge with Evan. Unfortunately, in the intervening years it has been lost forever.