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Venkatesh found dead in dorm from apparent suicide

Published: September 7, 2012
Section: Featured, Front Page, News


Responding to a wellness check requested by his parents, Brandeis police found Akshay Venkatesh ’14 dead from an apparent suicide in his Ziv Quad dorm room Monday morning, university officials said.

Venkatesh’s parents, who live in Singapore, called university police because they had not heard from him for multiple days, Associate Dean of Student Life Maggie Balch said.

The apparent suicide shocked the Brandeis campus on Labor Day as students unaware of the death socialized during the activities fair on the Great Lawn, and administrators returned to campus to facilitate a crisis response.

President Fred Lawrence spoke to students at a campus vigil on Monday evening and described the impact on the small Brandeis campus.

“Tonight the Brandeis family is in mourning,” he said. “There is a deep tear in the fabric of the Brandeis community. There’s a tear in the fabric, and that’s a tear for all of us.”

Out sick on Monday, Dean of Student Life Rick Sawyer returned to campus Tuesday for meetings with administrators and staff, but Balch served as the crisis team leader throughout the week. When police found Venkatesh shortly after 10 a.m., Balch contacted his parents later that morning.

The immediate concern for administrators and staff arriving at the scene of a death, before notifying the entire student body, is to notify and meet with those students living in the suite, then the hall and then the building, Balch said.

Massachusetts State Police and staff from Middlesex District Attorney Gerard Leone’s Office responded to the scene and the body was turned over to the Massachusetts Medical Examiner.

Investigators determined the death did not appear to be suspicious or involve foul play, a spokeswoman for Leone said. As is customary for unattended deaths, university officials labeled the death an apparent suicide because the Medical Examiner must determine the official cause of death. As of Thursday evening, the Medical Examiner had not yet listed a cause of death, Terrel Harris, communications director for the Massachusetts Department of Public Safety, said.

Catholic Chaplain Walter Cuenin and Lawrence led a candlelight vigil with prayer, brief remarks and a moment of silence on Monday evening at Chapels Pond. Professional staff reserved conference rooms for students and the Psychological Counseling Center remained open on Monday until 10 p.m.
The counseling center did not hold additional hours this week, Sawyer said, explaining it did not see a dramatically increased demand from students.

Lawrence notified the community about the death in an email sent Monday evening, urging students to talk with one another and speak with CAs, CDCs, OLs and other staff on campus.

“We face this loss as a community—no one needs to face it alone,” he wrote. “Indeed, because Brandeis is a nurturing and closely knit campus, no one should ever feel alone when handling the inevitable stresses and pressures of life.”

The last suicide on campus occurred when first year student Kat Sommers ’14 took her own life the week before February break in 2011. Prior to that, the last time a Brandeis student committed suicide was during commencement weekend in 2009.

Lawrence urged students to spend time together, reminding them that community can serve as a powerful response to grief.

“There are people for you to talk to tonight and there are people for you to talk to every night,” he said.