A few thoughts about Tyler Cole’s “We Were Only Freshmen” [June 7], on suicide and the University of Chicago, from an alumna of that college:
1. Curious about what the U. of C. has to say about this phenomenon, I learned in the April 25, 2002, Chicago Weekly News, a campus newspaper, that “guidelines [on handling suicides by students] were being drawn up by the administration under the title ‘When a Student Dies.'” “When a Student Dies”? As if a suicide were comparable to a student dying of cancer or in an auto accident! Why is it that a place that stakes a claim to intellectual honesty doesn’t simply say “When a Student Commits Suicide”? Also, the U. of C.’s current Student Counseling and Resource Service Web page cautions that “when a student indicates that he or she is considering leaving school or transferring…a change of place may not be all that is at issue.” How generous for the U. of C. to admit–after recognizing that there are “nontrivial shortcomings in the undergraduate experience,” as Cole related–that the place might be partly “at issue”! I suspect that a student’s sense that he or she might be happier elsewhere and taking action on it might be the smartest and healthiest decision he or she has made, at least since applying to college.
2. In addition to the preponderance of “misfits and oddballs” mentioned by Cole, it’s worth noting that another kind of student contributes to the, well, challenging atmosphere of college at the U. of C. It’s the “safety school” for many who once dreamed of being accepted by one or more other elite schools, ones with more discouraging acceptance rates, but weren’t. According to a report by the U. of C. that I happened to get in the mail last week–“The Organization of the College and the Divisions in the 1920s and 1930s,” part of its ongoing mythologizing project–the college accepts 44 percent of its applicant pool. This rather high percentage for a “selective” school is always chalked up to the U. of C.’s attracting only rare, “self-selective” applicants. Maybe. In any case, bitter students do not make for a happy place.
3. In a more protective era, Cole’s article would be kept away from certain impressionable high school students. The irony is that reports like his only increase the yearning for the U. of C. by the very people who would be best advised to look elsewhere. A.J. Liebling was correct in calling the U. of C. the biggest magnet for neurotic adolescents since the Children’s Crusade. (Disclaimer: The U. of C. was my first and only choice in colleges, so those who take issue with these comments may simply dismiss them as further symptoms of a continuing neurosis.)