As news spread of the death of Luchang Wang ’17 Tuesday evening, classmates, friends and mentors remembered a young woman whose intellect was matched only by her compassion, whose care for her academic work ran as deep as her concern for the injustices she observed in the world around her. Wang died in an apparent suicide on Tuesday.

“Luchang was the kind of person that all people are supposed to be,” said Leigh Vila ’17, Wang’s suitemate. “There was absolute perfection in the way that she loved other people — and showed that she loved them.”

Vila added that Wang was constantly doing “small, beautiful things” to show her suitemates she cared. Wang would often decorate their door handles with tiny toys or pick flowers for them on her runs to East Rock, Vila said.

A mathematics major in Silliman College, Wang distinguished herself through her involvement with the Yale Political Union’s Party of the Left, Yale Effective Altruists and the Yale Record.

Wang, who was 20 years old, attended high school in West Des Moines, Iowa, where she ran cross-country and won recognition for her academic excellence. In 2010, she led her high school to victory in the Ames Laboratory/Iowa State University Regional High School Science Bowl. That same year, she tied for 18th place nationwide in the Math Prize for Girls contest and was one of 98 students nationwide to win the prestigious Siemens Award for Advanced Placement. She was also a candidate for the United States Department of Education’s Presidential Scholars program.

Students who knew her at Yale described her as a selfless and giving classmate who cared deeply about doing good for other people.

“Her motivation in life was to make the world a better place,” said Tammy Pham ’15, Wang’s close friend and fellow Effective Altruists member. “It’s sad to see someone with such a pure love go like this.”

From their very first conversation, Wang demonstrated remarkable openness and intimacy, said Caroline Posner ’17, who met Wang through the Party of the Left. She was soft-spoken and modest, Posner added.

“When she spoke at party debates, it was out of a sense of duty to engage the room, never a desire to hear herself speak, as it often is for many of us,” Posner wrote in an email. “She was so ridiculously grateful for a life that was never easy or fair to her.”

Wang’s sense of civic duty extended beyond Yale’s campus. She cared deeply about social justice, traveling to New York City and marching in honor of Michael Brown with people she had never met, said Carlee Jensen ’15, who also befriended Wang through the YPU. Jensen added that Wang never hesitated to push her intellectually, challenging her whenever she said something flippant or tried to avoid a serious question.

Wang’s mental acuity also extended to her satirical work. Wang demonstrated an “original comedic mind,” said Aaron Gertler ’15, chairman of the Yale Record. From his encounters with Wang, both on the Record and in the Effective Altruists, Gertler said her input was always “kind, necessary and relevant.”

David McGinnis, Wang’s high school debate coach, remembered her as a “brilliant and talented young woman.” She was one of the best public forum debaters in the country, he said. During her junior year of high school, she and her partner qualified for the national Tournament of Champions after just two rounds of competition — the fastest that anyone can qualify.

“I don’t know what else to say,” McGinnis wrote in an email. “I want very badly for this not to have happened. She should have long outlived me.”

Astronomy professor Priyamvada Natarajan, a longtime supporter of the Math Prize for Girls, presented Wang with her award in 2010. She said Wang was a gifted young woman.

Natarajan described Wang’s passing as a “devastating loss to our community and for the future of mathematics.”

Silliman College Master Judith Krauss held a gathering in her house Tuesday evening for all Yale students to come together and offer each other support. Krauss told the News she believed Wang loved Yale and the “hope she found here, especially through her friends and classmates.”

Krauss added that the Silliman community, the YPU and many others are trying to make sense of this painful loss.

Posner said her memories of Wang will always be of her smiling.

“It reminds me of that Roald Dahl quote: ‘If you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely,’” Posner wrote. “Luchang — who was stunning regardless — looked like she had sunbeams shining out of her whole being.”

Wang is survived by her mother, father and a younger sister.

  • warcolleger

    Wang is not alone. A wave of suicides is percolating through our colleges. One at Princeton recently, five at UPenn, This is so tragic and cruel as to be almost unbearable. No conceivable reason exists for someone like Wang to take her own life–or indeed for ANYONE to do so. These suicides and suicide attempts mean something, though. Something is WRONG in higher education. One of my friends, a top MD, is a leading expert on suicide. He tells me no question, this is abnormal, a sign of a problem, a deep problem. Let some college president step up to the plate now and really confront this issue. No blue ribbon committees, suicide awareness days, etc. Time to get really serious. This woman was precious and now she is incomprehensibly gone. Others have preceded her–many. Let us pray that no more follow. May the angels welcome her into paradise . . .

  • Ravi Chandra, M.D.

    With the Yale community and Luchang’s family and friends, I mourn this terrible loss. But as an outsider to the Yale community, I have to observe that this kind of eulogizing highlights the problem. I understand the need to emphasize Luchang’s achievements and her positive qualities, but unspoken are the conditions and pressures that might have led to her problem. I can imagine depressed students and others reading this – how might it make them feel? Like their problems will be as invisible after they’re gone as they were when they were with us. I apologize if my words are strong – but I hope that more help comes, particularly for young API women, who have the second highest suicide rate in the 15-24 age range of all ethnic groups (only Native Alaskan females are higher). This is in epidemic proportions. A rash of suicides in Palo Alto, also many Asian American, underscores this point. Perhaps some articles and resources for this and other vulnerable populations would be helpful, such as http://www.aaspe.net and the hotlines listed on that website, for the general population and for specific language groups.

    • Guest

      Thank you for posting this. It is a necessary reminder to all of us that we should focus not on ourselves and what we have lost after her death, but instead on Luchang and what was lacking or problematic in her life.

      However, I want to note that the conditions and pressures that might have led to her problem are private details that Luchang has provided in confidence to her friends. It is hard to strike a balance between revealing enough to help the community heal and not revealing so much that it feels as though we are betraying her trust. As a community, we will have to tackle these problems and make sure that they do not become invisible. But for the purposes of a public obituary, I believe that the balance should lean towards not revealing more than is absolutely necessary.

      Again, thank you so much for this comment. It rings very true to me and I believe it will help shape the conversations that follow.

      • Ravi Chandra, M.D.

        Thank you. Working as a psychiatrist with such high achieving young people, and being a friend as well – I’m often reminded of the shadow of success and achievement, and what feelings are generated by being around talented people in schools like Yale. Even the most talented can feel inadequate. And ultimately, we’re all human – we’re all ordinary. Facing our ordinariness is sometimes the most difficult challenge of all. This may not relate at all to your friend, Luchang, but it is an issue.

  • Theresa Huang

    Campus violence, including taking either others’ lives or one’s own, has long been a serious social problem without getting deserved attention by the Government, educators, sociologists and society as a whole because we always shy away from the real problems with the execuses of privacy,…etc. Each life is priceless to the society and country, not to mention to the family related. How many parents were stunned and stuck by this kind of tragedy so far over the years in USA? Isn’t it too much to see it keep happening again and again? It is time to get some statistics on this regards by school and years and have researchers dig out the possible social factors that contribute to it as a whole. Parents need to be informed the risk they are taking before they send their beloved son or daughter to the prestigious colleges and should not be excluded by the schools, professional healthcare people in their children’s difficult on campus even their children reach 20. There are so many wrongdo that prevent our precious youngsters to receive effective help when they are stuck at the crictical stage.

  • https://shamanexplorations.com JanCarol Seidr

    I cannot help but to wonder if she was put on antidepressant drugs. They can induce akathisia and suicidal thoughts in young people (especially up to age 25) and there is a black box warning on them – but still doctors give them out. It’s criminal too, that they are so difficult to come off of. Easy as candy to give the script, hard as the devil to escape it. IF this is the case, this is one tragedy of thousands, worldwide.