Tragedy is our new normal, but it doesn’t have to be

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UConn has a responsibility to take care of its students. It has a responsibility to create a healthy culture of kindness and collaboration.  Photo by     Skitterphoto     from     Pexels

UConn has a responsibility to take care of its students. It has a responsibility to create a healthy culture of kindness and collaboration. Photo by Skitterphoto from Pexels

On Tuesday, The Daily Campus mourned the tragic loss of Justin Niezrecki. 

On Wednesday, it mourned the tragic loss of Tianyin Shang.  

I’ve cried a lot over the past few days, and I’m sure many who had the privilege of knowing Justin and Tianyin have as well. I’ve talked to many people who have reflected deeply on their own close calls with suicide and deep depression. I’ve talked about my own depression and experience with Counseling and Mental Health Services. Collectively, these conversations have made the powerful case that mental illness on campus is an institutional, not an individual, problem. Although we don’t know Tianyin and Justin’s full stories, we do know that far too many students suffer from depression and suicidal ideation.   

This should go without saying, but it’s important to say out loud: This is not normal. This is not inevitable.  

This is a mental health epidemic created by a culture that breeds depression, anxiety and severe stress. It’s a culture which isolates us and is hyper-competitive by design. It’s a culture which quantifies our value by our GPA. It’s a culture that tells us to embrace the struggle, that sleepless nights and burn-out are necessary preconditions of success. It’s a culture which puts undue pressure on first-generation students and poor students.  

Not all of this is UConn’s fault. We live in a perverse world with perverse incentives. We live in a time of deep ecological, economic and spiritual crisis. We may very well be the first generation in centuries to inherit a world more dangerous and fundamentally broken than our parents. It is only natural to despair at this collective situation. 

But still, UConn has a responsibility to take care of its students. It has a responsibility to create a healthy culture of kindness and collaboration. It has a responsibility to understand that stress, anxiety and depression are not inevitable byproducts of higher education, but the result of an institution which drives us to despair and then deprives us of the resources to handle that despair. 

For years, we’ve demanded dramatically increased funding for CMHS. We’ve demanded the university take mental health as seriously as it takes research funding or sports. We’ve demanded the university sees us as students with complex needs, not just numbers on a spreadsheet.  

But change has not been forthcoming.  

It’s long overdue for the health and well-being of students to be prioritized.   

I hope the university has finally woken up. It shouldn’t have taken two devastating tragedies to get here.  

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by individual writers in the opinion section do not reflect the views and opinions of The Daily Campus or other staff members. Only articles labeled “Editorial” are the official opinions of The Daily Campus.


Harry Zehner is the opinion editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at harry.zehner@uconn.edu.

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