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Unfair Attacks On Shin

Guest Column
Peter Jung

While I hesitate to take sides in the pending lawsuit, I must take exception to the arguments made by Dawn Perlner ’01 in her letter [“Parental Responsibility,” Feb. 5] and Michael J. Salib G in his guest column [“Give Us the Whole Truth”].

Let’s take the letter first. Perlner states, “It seems to me the parents are failing to take responsibility for their role in their daughter’s death.” I fail to see support for this claim. It’s funny that I never read anything about personal or parental responsibility during the Krueger aftermath. Where was the outrage then?

She concludes that “Elizabeth wanted to die because she felt she could never be the daughter her parents expected. If one cannot fulfill the hopes and dreams of those who gave you life, how can your life be justified in continuing?” This is a gross oversimplification of the complex issues of depression and suicide, and it overlooks the fact that many, dare I say most, children do not fulfill their parents’ initial expectations yet have no desire to kill themselves.

Perlner goes on to state, “If her parents had been notified about her problems, they could have either talked to her about it, which would probably embarrass her and only add to her stresses, making her death even more imminent...” If her parents knew how deep her problems ran, they would have done everything they could to relieve the pressure and stress on their daughter. All parents, given a choice, would rather die than see their children die.

I hope the last paragraph of the letter was a joke. Let’s just go on to the guest column. Salib’s main point seems to be that the Shins’ story is speculative and incomplete. A rather ironic thesis, since Salib’s column is entirely based on loose “conspiracy-theory” conclusions reading far too much into what the Shins say and don’t say. More importantly, he fails to directly address their most powerful points.

Here are a few no-brainers. In paragraph three, Salib suggests that the Shins should “release the medical records to the public.” Please, show some freaking respect. Do you realize that medical records include psychological evaluations and in-depth descriptions of personal narratives? In paragraph eight, he claims that public opinion can win lawsuits or settlements. History begs to differ. Can you say O.J.? How about Rodney King? Paragraph ten was especially incoherent and irritating. In paragraph eleven, he states, “Somehow I doubt they would have seen better medical care at a random state university with 40,000 students and four staff psychiatrists.” Somehow I doubt they would have seen any school with as many messed-up kids as at MIT. Greater problems call for greater measures. The people at the Medical Center aren’t incompetent, but they are severely understaffed.

And the “sympathy” paragraph he tacked onto the end was most unconvincing, given his column’s persistent use of callous sarcasm, especially with the snide selfishness presented in the previous paragraph. I wonder indeed, Mr. Salib, how much of $27 million would you and the current students have to pay? Are you saying that the Shins don’t work hard? Are you calling them thieves? You’ve pretty much already called them liars.

Salib tries to portray himself as an enlightened skeptic, wary of jumping to conclusions or taking sides. But it seems to me that he’s already done both.

As the reader can probably tell, reading these articles made me quite angry. Perhaps the authors’ positions stemmed from their ignorance of such issues as being an Asian-American, or depression. So I have decided to give my own personal take. I shall make my own bad generalizations that might have absolutely nothing to do with Elizabeth, but I think the flavor presented is worth reading.

There are many misunderstandings between first-generation and second-generation Asian-Americans. Very often, the parents have made it big despite coming to this country with next to nothing. They want their children to be better off than they were, and the only way they know how to facilitate that is through education. They pressure their children to excel (and judging by their picture, the Shins look pretty hardcore), and communication is often reduced to updates on the children’s latest achievements. This, in addition to gaps in age, culture, and language, can eliminate dialogues of a personal nature. The children feel implicit and explicit pressure to succeed, out of honor, pride, even fear. Too often, they shy away from divulging problems, especially personal ones. Think Christians and “God,” Old-Testament style. Getting the idea?

One of the most difficult obstacles of depression to overcome is to admit your problem and reach out for help, especially from people who are close. This is a result not so much of embarrassment but of shame, guilt, and possibly persistent denial.

Combine these two factors, and you have someone who is extremely reluctant to tell the folks about problems. Personally, if I wanted to hurt myself, I’d want my parents to know about it (whether I liked it or not). I’d want to know if my wife or kids were having problems too. It’s not about being treated like a baby. It’s about life, love, and death.

Should the Shins win the lawsuit? I doubt it. Are there serious problems with MIT’s Mental Health? You bet. Should MIT be held responsible for every student who decides to bite the dust? Certainly not. Anyone can point fingers, at Mental Health, the administration, the residence system, the academics, the parents, or the victim herself. Even we students might be unwittingly responsible for contributing to a dreary and apathetic atmosphere. But I don’t play the blame game. There’s a lot to be learned from Elizabeth’s story, though, and I hope some changes are made. By all of us.

And just in case you think you truly sympathize with her parents, think again. Seeing your child die? Truly tragic. Conceiving of the idea that you might have had something to do with it? It’s enough to make me cry.

Peter Jung is a member of the Class of 2001.