Ithaca is FENCES


Suicide barriers don’t work.  In the 2010-2011 school year, with a fence on the bridge, a Cornell University student lost his life by falling into a gorge.  In June 2011 a visiting student fell to his death in the gorge. If the suicide fences don't prevent accidents how can they prevent someone determined to commit suicide.

More evidence that suicide barriers don't work is that in December 2010 a recent Cornell graduate jumped to her death at Taughannock Falls a clear substitution of location from the fenced bridges at Cornell. Shamefully, Cornell has refused to acknowledge this suicide.

The Toronto study, the only valid statistical study on the effectiveness of suicide barriers, shows that putting up suicide barriers does not reduce the overall suicide rate. We encourage you to read the Toronto study.  Here's the link:

In the July 2010 Toronto study, published in the British Medical Journal, the researchers concluded:  “This research shows that constructing a barrier on a bridge with a high rate of suicide by jumping is likely to reduce or eliminate suicides at that bridge but it may not alter absolute suicide rates by jumping when there are comparable bridges nearby.”

David Gunnell from the University of Bristol and Matthew Miller from Harvard School of Public Health, commented in an editorial accompanying the Toronto study:  “This study reminds us that means restriction may not work everywhere, and that we have much to learn about the determinants of the choice of method in suicidal acts.”  [1]

The suicide barriers are an overreaction.  While each suicide is a tragedy suicide the overall suicide rate in Ithaca is very low and an exaggerated problem for this community. 

Some facts about suicide:

  • Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among college students.  [2]
  • The average annual suicide rate for college students is 7.5 suicides for every 100,000 students.  [3]
  • Cornell has had 25 suicides (15 from gorges) in the past 21 years for an average  suicide rate of 1.2 per year. [4]                                              
  • Cornell University had 6 reported suicides in the 2009-2010 school year.  Three of those students tragically took their lives by jumping from a bridge.
  • The average annual suicide rate for 20 to 24 year olds is 12.5 per 100,000 . [5]
  • Suicide is the third leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24. [5]
  • Young people are much more likely to use firearms, suffocation, and poisoning than other methods of suicide, overall. [5]
  • More than 90 percent of people who die by suicide suffer from depression and other mental disorders, or a substance-abuse disorder.      [6,7]   Mood disorders are present in 30%,  substance abuse in 18%, schizophrenia in 14%, and personality disorders in 13.0% of suicides.[8]    

The fences are a depressing and constant reminder of suicide. It is creating a public health crisis as people focus on the fear of Ithaca’s bridges and gorges.  It’s time for Cornell to address the real issues: mental illness and the culture on its campus.  Fences are not the solution and there is no legitimate reason to punish the entire community because of the tragic deaths of a few.  NO MORE FENCES.


1.  ScienceDaily (July 7, 2010) study published online in the British Medical Journal study by Mark Sinyor, M.D., of the University of Toronto, and Anthony J. Levitt, M.D., of the Women's College Hospital in Toronto

2.  Vastag B. Suicide prevention plan calls for physicians’ help. JAMA. 2001;285(11):2701-2703.

3.  Silverman M, et al. The Big Ten Student Suicide Study: A Ten-Year Study of Suicides on Midwestern University
Campuses. Suicide and Life Threatening Behavior. 1997;27(3) 
4.  Susan H. Murphy ,

5.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS):   
6.  Moscicki EK. Epidemiology of completed and attempted suicide: toward a framework for prevention. Clinical Neuroscience Research, 2001; 1: 310-23.   
7.  Arsenault-Lapierre G, Kim C, Turecki G (Nov 2004). “Psychiatric diagnoses in 3275 suicides: a meta-analysis”. (Free full text). BMC Psychiatry 4: 37. . doi:10.1186/1471-244X-4-37. PMID 15527502. PMC 534107.                                                                                                                 
8.  Bertolote JM, Fleischmann A, De Leo D, Wasserman D (2004). "Psychiatric diagnoses and suicide: revisiting the evidence". Crisis 25 (4): 147–55. Doi:10.1027/0227-5910.25.4.147. ISSN 0227-5910. PMID 15580849.