Cornell has struggled with perceptions about its suicide rates. Timothy Marchell, a clinical psychologist in the campus health service, speculates that this is because many suicides take place in dramatic spots among the gorges of Ithaca, N.Y., from bridges as high as 70 feet.
One student jumped in February and two more in March of this year on consecutive days. The total reached six over the 2009-10 academic year.
Examined over several years, Cornell’s rates are not higher than the national average. But those that did take place attracted an extraordinary amount of attention, with Cornell being referred to as a “suicide school.” The university has invested heavily in efforts to console and monitor the student body, in the hope that other despairing students can be caught in time.
But Cornell is also investing in more-straightforward interventions: It awarded a $600,000 contract to the architecture firm Office dA, owned by Nader Tehrani and his business partner, Monica Ponce de Leon, to design permanent barriers that would make throwing oneself off bridges difficult, if not impossible. But a dispute between the two, who were once romantic partners as well as business partners, has put the project on hold. Cornell Insider reports:
The conflict stems from Tehrani’s agreement in 2003 to make Ponce de Leon Office dA’s majority shareholder. As an effort to attract projects seeking female-owned firms, Tehrani handed over 51 percent of the company’s ownership share to his colleague of almost 20 years. As majority shareholder, Ponce de Leon has allegedly claimed the rights to appoint new partners, make deductions from the company’s bank account, and most recently, change the building locks to prevent Tehrani from entering.
The two, who have accused each other of unlawfully withdrawing money from the firm’s account, are entering arbitration over who owns the company.
Meanwhile, no one seems to know how long it will take to complete the campus-bridge barriers. The original schedule had the university and city council approving final designs in May 2011.
Temporary black fences that were erected after the last rash of suicides have proved controversial: Residents and students have complained that they ruin the views.
Flickr photo of temporary fences by almostsummersky.