Times of Tragedy Call for Honesty

Published: October 5, 2010

Shocking news struck the Fordham community last week when we learned of the untimely death of a fellow classmate, Jacob Miller, Fordham College at Rose Hill ’14. With each e-mail update we received from the Fordham Emergency Management Council, we at the Observer felt a mix of emotions: sadness, alarm and compassion among them.

“Miller… was found deceased in his room in Alumni South today, September 28. There is no indication of foul play,” the University’s official statement reported. Immediately, the widespread concern among the student body was palpable. With a lack of information about the cause of death, students were not only caught off guard, but were also confused about what had happened to their classmate.

Thus far, there has been no statement from University administration acknowledging that this Fordham student took his own life, despite the fact that the New York Post confirmed the suicide with police sources the day of Miller’s death. As a result, students could be left in the dark while attempting to cope with deep and varying emotions. In an already anxiety-provoking situation, withholding information can only intensify students’ distress. The secrecy surrounding Miller’s death creates a sense that it is something we should not be talking about, while in reality, the resulting conversation can raise awareness, foster support and increase efforts toward suicide prevention on campus.

The website for Fordham’s Counseling and Psychological Services says, “We are fortunate here at Fordham to have a student body, staff, faculty and administrators who are very aware of students who are struggling emotionally and highly effective at getting students the help they need.” What University officials seem not to realize is that nothing prompts emotional struggling like an information vacuum in the midst of a frightening event. It is difficult to be aware as a student body if we are not accurately informed of the realities that occur on our campus. Suicide is a painful and serious subject, but it is not one to be ignored or covered up when it happens. Often times, tragedy prompts increased awareness of the conditions that produced it, and the more students who are paying attention to one another’s emotional health and staying as fully informed as possible, the better.

As Ashley Tedesco’s article “Fordham Responds to Freshman Death” on page one states, Fordham has made many resources available to grieving students and to those who may be struggling emotionally. But what our community is lacking—and should not lack—is the ability to communicate openly about a national issue that has recently affected many of us on a deeply personal level.

According to the Counseling and Psychological Services website, “Suicide is the second leading cause of death, after accidents, among college students.” Facts like this are alarming, but numbers don’t always hit home the way a single local tragedy does. Because of the personal ties the Fordham community feels to Jacob Miller’s death, students and staff have been engaging in important and necessary conversations on how to cope and support one another in this uniquely tragic situation, while the administration has remained silent.

Our conversations will happen regardless of whether or not the administration chooses to engage in them. However, discussions based on missing facts can lead to the spread of misinformation, which is disrespectful to both the deceased student and the grieving community. There is nothing wrong with the truth. Jacob Miller’s suicide is a tragedy that will undoubtedly remain with the Fordham community for some time. With open conversation and adequate awareness, it may be possible to prevent such pain from striking our community again.