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Communication to alumni lacking in aftermath of suicide

Published: September 13, 2012
Section: Opinions


Graduating from Brandeis is really difficult, especially if you loved your college years as much as my close friends and I did. I graduated a year and a half ago, and since then, many of my peers and I have had to struggle with the unique dilemma of what to do now that the most awesome phase of our lives has passed.

Most of us cope in one of three ways: We try to recreate the connections we felt at Brandeis in the real world; we try to live vicariously through our friends still at the university we once called home; or we do some combination of the two. It’s not that our lives post-Brandeis are particularly horrible or troublesome: It’s just that Brandeis was such a life-altering experience that we find it difficult to let go.

My personal coping mechanism of choice is living vicariously through my friends still at The Hoot. I send them a barrage of emails almost bi-weekly with questions and thoughts about the happenings at school despite working at my own, real-world-job at a daily newspaper across the state. I read The Hoot and the Justice every week. I even read BrandeisNOW on a semi-regular basis.

It was in one such email to The Hoot editorial board that I learned of the suicide of Akshay Venkatesh ’14. It was Monday night last week and one of my Facebook friends had a somewhat cryptic status saying that his prayers were with the Brandeis community. I sent an email to my Hoot cohorts, and they told me the horrible news.

The tragedy was still very fresh, so I didn’t find it odd that the university didn’t send an email to us alumni. But then a week passed, and still no email was received. In fact, if you aren’t as obsessed with Brandeis’ publications as I am and if you’re not on campus, you probably don’t know about the suicide.

During the summer, I, as a Brandeis alumna, have received invitations to attend Boston Red Sox alumni games, to play kickball and to donate to our university. I also have an email telling me that The Rose Art Museum finally got a new director.

The last notice I received from the university, dated the day after Venkatesh’s body was discovered, tells me about how faculty and administrators are “shar[ing] the joy of Brandeis and their disciplines with new students.” It includes obituaries of a Brandeis alumna who worked at CBS as well as a longtime trustee but no mention of Venkatesh.

So here’s a word of advice to the Brandeis administration from a dedicated-to-the-point-of-obsessed alumna: If you are going to bombard me with emails that either directly ask me to donate to the university or that are crafted with the intention of giving me a favorable impression of the university so that I feel more inclined to donate at a later date, the least you could do is tell me that one of my former schoolmates has died.

I didn’t know Akshay Venkatesh but I have friends who are alumni and who did know him but didn’t know about his death until they heard it from me or from word-of-mouth. That’s inappropriate. We should be considered enough of a part of the Brandeis family to be worth telling actual news. More importantly, Venkatesh shouldn’t have to suffer the indignity of having his death shrouded in rumor because the alumni are stuck in a game of telephone due to lack of information.

If you’re worried that informing me will give me an unfavorable impression of the school, don’t be. Not only does your inaction do more harm than good to your fiscal cause, but you should also know that I, having graduated Brandeis, am intelligent enough to separate out my own, wonderful memories from this recent tragedy.

On the off chance that it was simply an oversight that alumni were not informed, that should be remedied. There is no reason why the same email that was sent to current students about Venkatesh’s death could not be sent to alumni.

At the candlelight vigil held Monday night, President Frederick Lawrence said that Venkatesh’s death represents “a deep tear in the fabric of the Brandeis community,” according to reporting by The Hoot.

As an alumna, I am part of that fabric. That’s why I used the first three paragraphs of this op-ed attempting to explain how strong Brandeis’ hold is even after we’ve left. Alumni are more than piggy banks: we are also members of the community.

As Lawrence himself put it at the vigil, “there’s a tear in the fabric, and that’s a tear for all of us.”