New School Mourns Suicides
Whether because there has been an increase in suicides, or because new attention is now being paid to a horrifyingly normal trend, the media has been dominated by stories of gay teen suicides in recent weeks. Tyler Clementi was 18. Felix Sacco was 17. Billy Lucas and Harrison Chase Brown were both 15. Seth Walsh and Asher Brown were only 13 when they killed themselves after their peers harassed them for being gay.
On the night of October 13, about 30 students, faculty and staff gathered in the Lang courtyard to honor the lives of the recent suicide victims and reflect on the United States’ progress toward tolerance and the terrifying pockets of prejudice that remain. “When I first started to hear about the suicides I knew it was important for The New School to do something,” said Alisha Racho-Jansen, a Lang junior who helped organize the event.
On the night of October 13, about 30 students, faculty and staff gathered in the Lang courtyard to honor the lives of the recent suicide victims and reflect on the United States’ progress toward tolerance and the terrifying pockets of prejudice that remain.
“When I first started to hear about the suicides I knew it was important for The New School to do something,” said Alisha Racho-Jansen, a Lang junior who helped organize the event.
Six people stood on the eastern steps of the courtyard, each holding an unlit glow stick. Each person said the name of one of the victims and cracked their stick, producing an array of colors.
The vigil was emotional, but there was a sense of closure and community along with all the sadness.
Two Lang students, Racho- Jansen and John Gentile, had strong reactions to the news of the suicides and felt compelled to honor them within The New School community. Gentile, a senior theater major, and Racho-Jansen, an interdisciplinary science major, separately approached Tamara Oyola-Santiago, a heath educator for The New School, about doing something to honor the victims and bring The New School’s LGBTQI community together.
Those at the vigil said that having it in the Lang courtyard held a special significance. “It’s a wonderful thing,” said Mark Larrimore, religious studies chair at Lang. “There was beauty tonight. This is the right place for it. This is the heart of our campus.”
The suicide of Rutgers student Tyler Clementi, whose roommate broadcast his intimate moment with another man online, immediately caught national attention. The reactions to his death have been many and varied, from intimate vigils like The New School’s to broad Internet viral video campaigns, but each has touched upon the homophobia that lingers in American culture.
Jordan Shavarebi, a Lang senior, recently founded The Campus Queer Collective student group and started “Make It A Big Deal,” a blog about LGBTQI issues.
Dan Savage, a columnist for Seattle paper The Stranger, recently started the “It Gets Better Project,” a YouTube video series in which people, many of whom are in the LGBTQI community, address young teens struggling with their sexuality and encouraging them to stay strong because “it gets better,” despite the hardships they may be facing now.
Many public figures have joined the outcry. On October 3, a vigil in Washington Square organized by New York University students brought notable figures like City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Governor David Patterson. President Obama and various celebrities have recorded videos for the “It Gets Better” project.
Gentile ended the vigil by thanking everyone for their support. As attendees exchanged hugs the mood changed from mourning to a celebration of community.
“We mourned the lives of people we lost and we celebrated who we are,” Oyola-Santiago said. “That’s a movement that is beautiful."