11/15/20 Bursar Depository, Hovde Hall

Hovde Hall of Administration

The University is tamping down anger on campus after students found an online Purdue University Police Department report that showed three students died by suicide this semester. PUPD later updated its report to reflect no students had taken their own lives through October.

This comes after months of students reporting higher levels of stress and anxiety while taking hybrid and online classes during a semester unlike any other. The lack of school breaks, social gatherings and students' ability to spend time together have been often-cited reasons for elevated stress, along with what student say are more draining classes and dissatisfactory mental-health resources.

The uproar over the thought of three student suicides began online Tuesday night, as some noticed figures provided by PUPD's "Monthly Statistics for Present Year" report showed one suicide for the month of October and three from July to the present. 

By Wednesday morning, those figures had changed, eliciting confusion and anger from students. PUPD now reports zero suicides for both October and from July to October, as well as three attempted suicides for October and seven attempted suicides from July to October.

One student has died from suicide since July, Purdue spokesperson Tim Doty confirmed Wednesday afternoon, a death that occurred this past weekend in Earhart Residence Hall. PUPD will update its report to reflect the additional death by the end of November, the police chief said.

"Even one lost student is one too many, but sadly, going back to 1998, we lose an average of nine students every year to illness, accidents and suicide," Doty said in an email. "That number has included an average of two students taking their own lives."

Doty said it is University policy not to comment on individual student deaths, beyond confirming names and offering condolences to the students' families.

The Exponent reached out to Purdue President Mitch Daniels through Doty Wednesday morning for comment on the recent confusion and student death. At 4:30 p.m., Doty said Daniels is speaking with the state budget committee today and is unavailable.

The student's cause of death is pending a toxicology investigation by the Tippecanoe County coroner's office, Deputy Chief Coroner Carrie Costello said. Such investigations typically last four to six weeks, she said.

Why did the numbers change?

Doty said the PUPD report is generated from information received in calls to police dispatch, not from the eventual outcomes of the calls. Thus someone reporting an apparent suicide would show up in the monthly report, even if police later reported that the cause of death was still undetermined.

"To avoid confusion," he said, "moving forward, only the APRA and Clery logs, which list the outcome of the call, will be kept."

Generally, those numbers are updated by campus police after PUPD receives further information as to the final classification of the call, PUPD Chief John Cox said.

“So what that individual (a poster on Reddit) saw was the information before it was updated, and now it’s been updated to reflect the actual numbers," he said Wednesday morning. “So it’s created some confusion, I will be honest with you, and we’re looking at ways to help stop the confusion.”

After Purdue Marketing and Media alerted PUPD to the error, Cox said, the department updated the monthly report Wednesday morning.

The campus police department does not update those logs until the end of the month, Cox clarified. The "zero" now listed would not include the death that happened over the weekend.

That report will be updated sometime near the end of November, he said.

How have students reacted?

After posts on the Purdue subreddit spread word of several reported suicides this semester, which PUPD later confirmed to be inaccurate, students mobilized.

A shared post began circulating that advertised a sit-in outside the Purdue administration building with the hashtag #OccupyHovde. The event is set to begin at 4 p.m. on Thursday outside of Hovde Hall and last indefinitely, with daily rallies occurring at 4 p.m. each day the sit-in lasts.

"In addition to a sit-down with administration," the post reads, "we DEMAND the following: Rectify the ineffectiveness of CAPS/Hold Purdue professors to higher accountability/Cease PUPD involvement with non-violent mental health crises/Uplift student voices by properly investigating incidents."

The post states that the point of the sit-in is to earn a meeting with Purdue administration.

The group organizing the sit-in represents a small number of students unaffiliated with any larger organization, though several members have been involved with the Black Lives Matter movements on campus.

What resources does Purdue provide?

Doty shared a few mental-health resources that he said Purdue has increased in recent years, and he suggested the Office of the Dean of Students as a place students can visit for further services.

"There are few areas of campus in which we have increased the budget and staffing more than Counseling and Psychological Services," he said. "Since 2013, we have doubled both, and every year, vastly more individual clinical appointments, group counseling sessions and programs have been offered.

"We urge all those who may be in need, or those who know someone who needs help to reach out."

Campus Editor Sean Murley contributed reporting to this story.

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