No more unanswered cries for help

I believe that for most people the student experience is a happy one. It is a time to develop one’s potential and make friends, and most of us leave university with good memories. But it is not like that for absolutely everyone. For a small number of people it is a lonely experience, or a frightening one, or a humiliating one. If they are able to turn to someone for support and help, all these things can be overcome; but sometimes no-one seems to be there for them.

A few days ago Tyler Clementi, a freshman (first year) student in Rutgers University, New Jersey, committed suicide after his sexual encounter with a man was unknown to him streamed live on the internet; his roommate and one other student have been charged with invasion of privacy. Clementi was a gifted musician with good prospects, but the humiliation of the webcast was apparently more than he could bear, and he could not or did not find anyone to whom he could turn for help or reassurance.

The story is a tragic one, but unfortunately not unique. And what it tells us is that it is vital for all of us who are in higher education (and I am sure in other walks of life) to keep an eye out for those who may be depressed or uncomfortable or in despair, or who may be victims of bullying or abuse. And it is important for universities and colleges to offer support to all who may need it in this way. In this context, it is also worth mentioning again the ‘Please Talk‘ campaign that is run in Irish higher education.

And for those who feel pressure or anguish of any kind, it is important to say that they need not be alone, and that there are many out there willing to talk and help. Including this writer.

Explore posts in the same categories: higher education, students

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3 Comments on “No more unanswered cries for help”

  1. Vincent Says:

    And it might be a very good idea to keep a close eye on those that you put into positions where they have contact with the vulnerable. It is, I know from experience a bit of a blind spot with some Universities. Further one of the ways to prevent such, would be to make certain there are no multiple titles and rolls where the person would end up reporting to the very scum, or have that scum sitting on a panel or committee in some other deciding area.

  2. Al Says:

    It would be good if there was an informal contact list of academics all around the country that could be databased and accessed for people who wanted to talk, but on an informal basis if need be.

    Hard enough to keep an eye when there are so many staring back at you.

    • Jilly Says:

      Al, I appreciate your sentiment, but I think this is a very dangerous idea. Academics are trained and qualified to give advice about their academic area, and also on study habits etc to students. We are NOT trained to help students in emotional distress, or with mental health problems of any kind, and any academic who strays into that area is behaving very wrongly.

      This is a difficult policy to keep to in practice, when you’re often the person whose office the student ends up in, and often the first person they break down in front of – so a conversation about a late essay spirals into one about serious personal or emotional issues. When that happens, I try to provide a sympathetic ear and a friendly face, but in terms of advice all I ever offer is the name and location of those qualified to actually help (such as the college doctor, counselling service, etc). I would never advise another academic to do anything else, given the seriousness of the issues we often hear about, and our own lack of training to deal with them.

      Of course, the sympathetic ear and friendly face are often very useful to the student in question in themselves, and I’m always pleased if I think that’s the case. But that is ALL I can offer.

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