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Editorials: Making sense of the senseless

Published: February 18, 2011
Section: Editorials


As members of the Brandeis community, we are both deeply disturbed and saddened as we mourn the death of Kat Sommers ’14. Death, no matter how sudden or unexpected, is always tragic. But, in the words of university President Fred Lawrence, suicide is “unbelievable” and “literally impossible to take in,” making it that much more difficult for us as a community to overcome our grief.

Through this week’s tragedy, our community displayed a remarkable response of unity and support for the Brandeis family during its darkest hour. Such support is a direct result of extraordinary leadership from the university’s senior management, including but not limited to President Fred Lawrence, Dean of Student Life Rick Sawyer, the Chaplaincy, the Counseling Center and staff who helped console us.

They responded immediately during a time of crisis and presented us with a sense of calm and a belief that our community can survive even the most daunting terrors.

But the response to Tuesday’s tragedy should not end with a memorial service and vigil.

As a community the questions of why suicide happens and what could possibly be done to prevent it will continue to haunt us. After someone takes their own life, it is often easiest to focus on a their personal stress in school, family or relationships. But too often our society ignores that crucial, yet painful and awkward discussion about mental illness and what can be done to treat it.

We hope that in the coming weeks, this university will take the difficult route and explore new ways to discuss mental illness. It may not be comfortable for many of us, but it is a necessary part of the healing process.

We request that the president’s office oversee a full review of this particular case and the general process for dealing with troubled or stressed students. The review should be directed by a committee comprised of randomly selected students, community advisers, community development coordinators, staff from the Office of Student Life and faculty, and should explore what we as a community can do better.

The purpose of such a committee is not to point blame—no one could have prevented the tragedy of Kat’s death. But in reviewing the circumstances of her demise and making sense of the senseless we can hopefully find some speck of good, a speck of meaning, out of this horrific week.

In honor of Kat’s life, this community must try, as best as it can, to initiate a campus-wide dialogue about the causes of suicide and how to prevent it. It is a responsibility we hope Brandeis and all its leaders will accept. This week’s tragedy tells us we do not have a choice.