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Mar 28, 2014 10:30 AM EDT

UPenn Criticized for Response to Rash of Suicides in Past Academic Year

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The University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) is coming under fire for waiting months to publicly report a student's suicide and for the selection of its depression and anxiety task force.

This academic year alone, four UPenn students have taken their own lives, three of them since Christmas. In response, the school's president and provost launched the Task Force on Student Psychological Health and Welfare.

According to the Huffington Post, UPenn's School of Social Policy and Practice (SP2) is upset that none of their students or faculty members were asked to be on the task force.

It boggles the mind as to why no one was consulted and put on the task force," SP2 professor TJ Ghose told the HP.

"How aware, really, are they of everyday student life on campus?" said another SP2 professor, Allan Irving. "They're pretty removed, most of them, I think."

On the task force is two psychiatrists, but it is mostly made up of administrators, such as the school's top two, and the university lawyer.

Wendy Shung, a second-year graduate student, committed suicide on Aug. 19, the Daily Pennsylvanian reported. UPenn sophomore Elvis Hatcher died in Dec. and his death was later ruled a suicide in Feb. Madison Holleran, a freshman, took her own life in late Jan.

Alice Wiley, an SP2 graduate student, committed suicide in late Dec. in her home in Georgia, but the school did not tell the UPenn community of her death until Jan. 15. Faculty did not even learn it was a suicide until Feb.

"I learned about it from a student of mine," Irving told the HP.

Professors like Ed Monica, one of Holleran's former teachers, is advocating for more transparency from schools on suicide rates. He drafted a petition on MoveOn.org that has gained more than 5,600 signatures and been brought to the attention of Sen. Cory Booker and Bob Menendez, legislators in New Jersey, Holleran's home state.

Mental health is becoming more of a public issue, especially at Ivy League schools, where students say they feel massive amounts of pressure to perform academically.

"From my perspective, the more openness the better," Irving said. "The more you can talk about, the more the entire university community can reflect on what these students have to deal with here."

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