Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Alarming and sad

Yesterday I noted the passing of Andrew Lange of the California Institute of Technology. When I read the article, it struck me that no cause of death was given, especially since he was in his early 50s. That was unusual. I gave it no thought until I read this:

A leading figure in physics, Andrew Lange of the California Institute of Technology, killed himself last week, leaving many of his colleagues deeply saddened and confused. Last year, Lange won the prestigious Dan David Prize, worth $1 million, in astrophysics. While unrelated to Lange's death, concerns about suicide have been prominent at Caltech of late because of three student suicides in the last year. Following those deaths, the institute created a task force on mental health issues and has brought in extra counselors as needed. An outside consultant is also studying options for helping students who may face mental health difficulties. The campus counseling center was open over the weekend, following Lange's death.

EPICANTHUS [The Asian American News Aggregator] published...

Three Asian American students at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have killed themselves in the last three months, reports New America Media writer Alex Pham. Two died by helium asphyxiation and the cause of death of the third student, though deemed a suicide, is yet to be determined. Their stories have been covered in the Chinese-language media, but remain underreported in MSM, writes Pham.

The disturbing cluster of suicide deaths on the Caltech campus began May 17 when Brian Go, a junior with a double major in computer science and computational mathematics, was found dead in his dorm room. Less than a month later and 48 hours before he was set to receive his diploma at graduation exercises, Jackson Ho-Leung Wang, a senior mechanical engineering student from Hong Kong, was found dead in his dorm room. Then, on July 22, Long Phan, a 23-year-old graduate student in chemistry, was found dead in his off-campus apartment.

Police are calling all three deaths suicides.

According to a recent report by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Asian Americans are much more likely to than the average American to take their own lives. Across the country, about 1,300 college students a year commit suicide, experts say.

NAM’s Pham points out that from 1996 to 2006, 13 of the 21 student suicides on the campus of Cornell Univ. were Asian or Asian American. Read Pham’s entire analysis, Asian Americans’ Rising Suicide Rates: Three Students Take Their Lives, here.

“That picture is not complete,” Pham points out, “unless you consider that Asians make up of only 14 percent of the total Cornell student body.”

This year’s commencement speaker, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu offered condolences to the families and friends of Go and Wang at graduation ceremonies held June 12.

“Tragedies like this affect all of us,” Chu said.

Chun-Che Peng, 22, a mechanical engineering student from New York, described Wang to the L.A. Times as one of the smartest people he knew, “the best of the best.”

“We want this to be a celebration of his life and achievements,” Peng said of his friend, who was a pianist with the Caltech Chamber Music ensemble.

Go, who was called “Bigo” by some of his friends, was the president of his residence hall, Page House, and a “fairly big figure” on campus, said Garrett Lewis, 20, an applied physics and political science major from Albuquerque. “Everybody knew him and everybody liked him,” Lewis said.

Jon Weiner, a Caltech spokesman, said the campus planned to hold a memorial for the two students this summer.

Frankly, I was not aware of the large number of university suicides. It is tragic.

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