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Alcohol vs. Suicide

There is something I find disturbing, and it has bothered me for a while, but I'm prompted now to write by the recent death of Michael P. Manley '02.

As I understand it, MIT has had three undergraduate suicides occur on campus in the four years that I remember myself. In the years before I came to MIT, I know there were many more. Other than the usual counseling and talk about blocking windows, I don't remember other actions taken in response to these unfortunate deaths in an effort to prevent them in the future.

On the other hand, MIT has had one undergraduate drinking death in perhaps its entire history, and that has caused sweeping changes all over campus. The entire residence system was changed, social gatherings had to follow new guidelines (officially or not, I witnessed drastic changes to social activities) and also, more importantly, the issue of "binge drinking" was on everyone's mind and was widely discussed.

Why is it that these suicide deaths don't cause this kind of campus upheaval? Are these suicide deaths not related to campus life? But the alcohol-related death was? If these suicides were all completely independent events, why does it happen so often here at MIT? And on the other side, if an alcohol-related death is so closely related to campus life and residence policies that they must be so drastically changed, why have the consequences been historically less tragic?

Clearly, I am not saying that horrible tragedies are the only warrant for change; I just want to put forth the notion that some problems seem to have gotten a disproportionately greater amount of attention, while others seem almost neglected. If one kind of death is so much more dependent on the individual, why has it happened so frequently? I think that the lone drinking death may be more related to the individual, and these suicides may be more of a campus problem than we realize. Why is there such a discrepancy? Perhaps the administration is confused, or far too influenced by negative media coverage. If so, then this is my tiny bit of bad press for the Institute.

Bryan E. Weir '99