Coronavirus

Dartmouth College student suicides force reflection on pandemic policies

“It was isolation like I’d never known isolation."

Students inscribed the initials of first year Connor Tiffany in the pavement behind the dorm, where he lived on campus in the fall, his first and only term on campus. Tiffany, 18, of Virginia, died in March. Boston Globe Photo Import

After three first-year students committed suicide in one year, Dartmouth College students are criticizing the school’s management of the pandemic and advocating for better mental health support.

Students are expressing their outrage through op-eds, memorial vigils, and graffiti outside college President Phil Hanlon’s house that reads, “Paint is impermanent, loss of life is forever,” and “3 deaths too many.”

There have been four total Dartmouth student deaths this year: Beau DuBray, 18, of South Dakota, died on Nov. 19. Connor Tiffany, 18, of Virginia, died on March 14. Elizabeth Reimer, 18, of Long Island, New York, died on May 19. Another student, Lamees Kareem, 20, of Saudi Arabia, died on April 1 of a medical condition unrelated to COVID-19.

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Students organized a May 21 vigil on the New Hampshire campus to remember Reimer. According to school newspaper The Dartmouth, students created a memorial of photos, candles, and sentimental items, and some left personal notes for Reimer. The vigil was the first in-person gathering on campus all year, the Boston Globe reports.

During the pandemic, mental health suffered

Research is just beginning to document the impact pandemic policies have had on young people’s mental health. A 2020 report from the CDC showed that U.S. adults experienced elevated levels of anxiety and depression during COVID-19, and the levels were highest among people 18 to 24. Over 60% of adults 18-24 experienced anxiety and depression, and one in four contemplated suicide, during the pandemic.

College’s health policies have been especially tough on first-year students, who likely don’t have established friends or social groups on campus. At Dartmouth, according to the Globe, students moved in mostly alone, underwent a two-week quarantine, and virtually attended orientation.

Dartmouth first-year Robert Abel told the Globe that Dartmouth’s efforts to help seemed misdirected, focusing more on stress relief but not addressing the root of the problem: loneliness and academic stress.

“It was isolation like I’d never known isolation,” he said.

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The Dartmouth reported that in a May 21 email, Hanlon announced the college would be hiring a second on-call nurse, two new counselors, and a student wellness coordinator “as soon as possible.” He also noted that the college would be partnering with the JED Foundation, a nonprofit working to prevent suicides and protect mental health, to launch a four-year initiative aiming to achieve “systemic and enduring change.”

“The pandemic has exacerbated many problems, but foremost among them has been mental health,” Hanlon wrote. “On this critical issue, we must do more to support our community.” 

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