A senior at Yale-NUS died suddenly on the Singaporean campus Sept. 29, devastating the close-knit community of only 710 students and catalyzing conversations about mental health on campus.
As of Thursday night, Yale-NUS President Pericles Lewis said the cause of death had not been confirmed and added that, from his understanding, “coroner’s inquiries in Singapore can take quite some time.” Yale-NUS Dean of Students Christopher Bridges also confirmed Thursday evening that the Singapore Police Force investigation was ongoing, and that those at Yale-NUS do not know when the investigation will conclude.
However, since the death, conversations have emerged on campus and students’ social media accounts relating to issues of mental health, which remain widely stigmatized in Singapore. The Ridge, one of the National University of Singapore’s student publications, reported that police said the death was “unnatural” and were investigating its cause.
“The staff and students at Yale-NUS College are deeply saddened by the passing of one of our students,” Bridges said. “The student will be greatly missed. Our deepest sympathies lie with the student’s family and loved ones, and we are providing them with as much assistance as we can during this difficult period.”
This is the first reported student death at Yale-NUS, which was established in 2011.
The family of the deceased has requested that the student’s identity remain anonymous, and individuals at Yale-NUS have largely declined to speak to reporters about the student and the nature of the death. Of 16 Yale-NUS students contacted by the News, nine did not respond and five declined to comment, citing privacy concerns.
A candlelight vigil was held at Elm College, one of Yale-NUS’s three residential colleges, last week. Lewis said the school has provided assistance to the student’s family and counseling resources to those affected by the death.
Christopher Tee YNUS ’17, a former group leader for Yale-NUS’s peer wellness program, P.S. We Care, said there have recently been both public and private discussions of mental health on the Yale-NUS campus. Lewis said that issues of student wellness were discussed at a regularly scheduled town hall on Oct. 4.
Tee said the immediate reaction on campus was “shock” and that the college “plunged into a somber mood” in the days after the student’s death. Yale-NUS students have addressed their grief in different ways and have been proactive in checking in with their peers, Tee said. A number of Yale-NUS students have expressed condolences on social media, sharing memories of the student as well as reflections on mental health concerns.
“Any death in the community is a tragedy, but the circumstances made it all the more shocking,” said Dave Chappell YNUS ’18, the Editor-in-Chief of Yale-NUS’s weekly student paper, who declined to comment further on the specifics of the student’s passing. “It was a difficult time for the college. Nothing like this has ever happened here before, and it has understandably shaken us. We’re a very small college, so a tragic event like this affects everyone to some extent. That said, the outpouring from the community has been really moving, on social media, in the lifts and through the candlelight vigil. Everyone has come together to support one another.”
Bridges said Yale-NUS provided additional counseling for community members after the student’s death. He added that members of the Singapore American Community Action Council — a counseling and psychotherapy resources provider — were on campus 24 hours each day through Oct. 2. An around-the-clock telephone hotline from LifeLine NUS, a call line operated by the National University of Singapore’s University Health Centre, was also available, Bridges said.
Tee said the Yale-NUS administration has been quick in responding to student needs, opening up spaces such as common lounges in which students can gather. Professors have also been supportive, he said.
“Personally, I’ve been both amazed and grateful at how quickly resources were deployed, and how much help was available in formal and informal channels,” Tee said.
According to Bridges, Yale-NUS offers both peer and professional counseling, including at the Wellness Centre, which the school’s Dean of Students Office oversees.
“These have been very difficult moments for all of us, and we have seen our students, faculty and staff coming together as a community to grieve and support each other at a time of great loss and pain,” Bridges said.