I am not sure if this is a taboo topic here but I feel that the reaction to suicides in universities says a lot about both the university communities and the society as a whole. I am certain I don’t have all the angles covered but I just want to write about what I see from my perspective.
A freshman studying in HKUST committed suicide last year while I was in Hong Kong. There was a huge reaction from the student population. There were people standing near the escalators in the atrium (one out of the two ways to the classroom block in HKUST) and distributing posters from their Editorial Board that critisized the school for creating the competition, stress and the tension which led to the suicide. In the posters, the editors also attempted to rationalize the suicide – students may have been “fooled” into thinking that university life is fun and exciting but they ended up feeling disappointed and even depressed because university turned out to be just a combination of over-sized scontent and packed deadlines. The students also demanded for change in the system towards a more humane and less competitive education system. After that, the university administration wrote an email expressing their condolences for the deceased student and urging “at-risk” students to seek help from the counselling office. This was one out of the three suicide cases that happened in HKUST last year.
Just last week, a freshman in NUS committed suicide in Utown. The reaction from the student body was quite different from that in HKUST. Instead of blaming the university administration, apart from several insensitive comments, most of the people chose to philosophize about life. Many remarked, “Life is much more than grades and studies.” Moments after I received the first email notifying us about the tragedy, I received two more emails that urged us not to comment about it on social media. The university administration also urged students not to mourn alone but to come together to remember him and to stay strong in this period. There was also a memorial and a book made by the student community for his family. There was no unified movement initiated by the students against the education system even though the curriculum here is a lot busier. People seem to have already accepted the stress and the competition in the university. This was the first suicide case that happened in NUS in recent years.
I am not sure how each of these reactions actually helps the deceased or helps to prevent further of such tragedies. I also do not know which reaction functions better in the long run for a society but as of now, I feel a lot more comfortable with the way NUS is managing the situation as compared to HKUST. There is this human touch which softens the impact of the tragedy in everyone’s heart.