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Administrators, Friends React to Student's Death

By Ramy A. Arnaout
editor in chief

The community is slowly coming to terms with news of the death of Melissa N. Ronge '98, four days after she fell to her death from a MacGregor House tower lounge early Monday morning.

Campus Police have called the circumstances of her death consistent with suicide.

The mood is a mix of sorrow, resignation, and disbelief as students and administrators re-examine the physical and procedural aspects of the tragedy. But the consensus is that it was not preventable.

"An incident like this does cause us to reconsider what we're doing, but we have [no reason] to believe what we were doing was inappropriate," said Associate Dean for Residence and Campus Activities Margaret A. Jablonski.

All of the windows - including the one Ronge fell from - had been bolted, said MacGregor Housemaster Munther A. Dahleh. "The safety lock was working," allowing the window to open only a few inches, although "the opening even with the lock was somewhat large," he said. Plans are underway to make the opening smaller, he said.

But no general changes are planned as yet, Jablonski said. "We did ask housing to take a look at the windows again," she said. "There was a concern expressed by some students that this particular window opened too far.

"We're always trying to make sure our residences are safe for people, but we have to balance" that with concern for students as a whole, Jablonski said.

The incident should not, for example, be taken as a cue to close down all tall dormitories or roof decks, Jablonski said.

"As of right now, we are not looking at making any major changes in any residential design based on" the incident, Jablonski said.

Students should know where to get help

Ronge had been talking with friends, tutors, and other people on campus Sunday night, said Senior Associate Dean Robert M. Randolph.

In general, the key to getting help is always asking, Randolph said. He encouraged students who need advice on serious matters to approach friends, tutors, and housemasters first. "Those are the people they know best," he said.

Next to ask are medical center staff and the consulting deans, although students should talk with whomever they feel comfortable with, Randolph said. Those people might include advisers, coaches, or chaplains, he said.

"There should always be a number of ways people can access the system," Randolph said. Students should know what those resources are.

"This is very terribly, terribly painful," Randolph said. Any decision that comes out of the incident will involve the input of the larger community, he said. "We will really continue to think and look at this for awhile."

The Undergraduate Association is working with MacGregor residents to plan an informal on-campus memorial service for late next week, said Stephanie M. Zielenski '98, one of the service's planners.

The planners hope it will help provide some sense of closure to the tragedy, Zielenski said.

"I've been very impressed by the way students have gotten together and tried to support each other," said MacGregor Housemaster Jinane A. Dahleh.

Ronge's friends remembered her as an outgoing person. "I was impressed by her ability to organize things," said one friend of Ronge. "She did so much with sports at MIT. She was well known and respected on campus.

"She was always a week ahead in all her classes," the friend said. "You don't know exactly what to say. You can't bundle up a person's memory in a number of lines."

A funeral service will be held tomorrow in Ronge's home town of North Syracuse, New York. MIT has arranged for a bus to take students to the service free of charge, Randolph said. It will leave MacGregor at 3 a.m. tomorrow to make the 10 a.m. service.