Code Red

COVER-2_0

It’s 1:30 a.m. An orange extension cord curls out of Carleton Lounge. “It blew out,” an officer tells me. It supplies, or rather did supply, the power for a room of students who flew, bused, trained, or drove in for hackNY’s spring 2013 hackathon.

A hackathon is a 24-hour race to mash your code with other people’s data, and perhaps some hardware, to make something you hope will seem cool and won’t break when you’re onstage the next day, trying to win the approval of nine judges and hundreds of your bleary-eyed peers.

There are prizes—like Sphero, a robotic ball you can control with an Android phone—and money, but nothing more than $1,000. Tumblr and Foursquare are here, as is 4chan’s founder, Christopher Poole, aka “moot.” Most students come with friends; some work alone. Everyone is tired. A student sleeps on a windowsill, a pillow under his head and a pile of clementines at his feet. Another tells me, his blue eyes not blinking, “I’ll sleep whenever I can’t stay awake anymore.”

Twelve hours, 360 Red Bulls, and over 800 cans of soda later, the attendees crowd an auditorium to watch the demos. Some sit on the floor and some wander in and out of the lobby, crushing more free sandwiches into their mouths and backpacks. The smell of BO floats through the back of the room. The boy next to me puts his head in his lap and naps through most of the presentations. He tells me he didn’t sleep last night. His team doesn’t win a single prize.

This is a snapshot of programming at Columbia, where, as in many universities across the country, computer science is booming and hackathons like the one described here are springing up with unprecedented speed. Here, the number of students projected to graduate with a degree in CS has risen 50 percent in the past two years. So has the number of students registered for the introductory class, W1004 (commonly referred to as “ten-oh-four”). On the national level, the Computing Research Association reported an “astonishing” 29.2 percent increase in new computing undergraduate majors.

CS and programming have more widespread appeal than ever before. Startups are frequently acquired for millions of dollars—and sometimes, as in the case of Instagram, for $1 billion. Starting salaries for graduates of top schools are commonly close to six figures. CS has gained cultural appeal through The Social Network, which grossed more than $220 million worldwide. “We’re treated more and more as if we possess superpowers,” explains Sam Aarons, a School of Engineering and Applied Science junior studying CS and the owner of Print@CU. “I can’t even be at a family gathering without somebody asking me if I have any ideas for companies I want to start or if I want to be the next under-25 billionaire.”

Yet the flash and money mask, as they so often do, the sadder stories of loss and failure. Ilya Zhitomirskiy was the co-founder of Diaspora, which once threatened Facebook’s stronghold over social media. Aaron Swartz was arguably one of the co-founders of Reddit and led the campaign against the Stop Online Piracy Act. Swartz was 26 when he killed himself. Zhitomirskiy was 22.

This past February, the Engineering student council released a newsletter containing a short paragraph saying that Tejraj Antooa, a computer science student who was not enrolled at the time, “perished on January 24, 2013 near his home in Elmont, Long Island.” The coroner’s office determined the cause of death was suicide. A flutter of Facebook activity expressed grief and anger, but after an aborted attempt to draft a letter criticizing the seemingly slow-acting administration, the formal conversation on campus ended. There was no memorial service. There was no space for discussion.

Antooa would have graduated this spring.

In the past year and a half since Tina Bu’s death, our campus has—at least in appearance—talked more openly about mental health issues. This year marked the second annual Mental Health Awareness Week, and Barnard just approved a new “wellness statement” that professors can add to syllabi. The issue remains, however, that not everybody is involved—and those in tech and computer science are only just starting to open their eyes to the reaches of mental health stigma in their ranks.

What follows is by no means the experience of every undergraduate in the CS department. Not everybody is suffering. Not everybody is overlooked. Instead, these stories are meant to show the perspectives of the alienated or underrepresented who, if they are not merely silenced or told they are “wrong,” are placed on a shelf labeled “We’ll get to that later.”

Now is the time for our communities to ask themselves what isn’t being said, who isn’t showing up, and who and what are lost as a consequence.

‘You never have to see the sun rise’
The operating systems class in any computer science department has a “reputation.” At Columbia, students must build their own operating system over the course of a semester. Since everyone works in groups, the pressure not to slack off—in other words, not to let your teammates down—is heightened. Mason Silber, a Columbia College senior who also studies physics, says he’s never worked harder or earned a lower grade than in OS. Michael*, a senior in CS, who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, gives a startling estimate of the workload: 40 to 80 hours a week on programming assignments. Jason Nieh, the professor who teaches OS at Columbia, disagrees. He gives a much lower estimate: 300 lines of code every 2 weeks, which means fewer than 50 lines of code a week for each student. In other words, far less than Michael’s estimate, which would equate to a strenuous full-time job. “There is no expectation that students spend 40 to 80 hours per week on assignments,” Nieh says.

Nobody denies that OS is exceptionally hard. Not even Nieh. Still, whatever the workload, the amount students learn seems to justify it. Nieh says that students learn a “tremendous amount” and tell him that “from hindsight, it was the most worthwhile and useful class they took,” because they learned skills they could employ as software engineers. Even Michael admits that OS is “pretty cool.”

But Michael insists that Nieh “does not seem to understand that students have lives they want to live outside of OS. It’s like that with all the profs” in the department.

It seems that, within CS, working to your limits is more common and relished than in other disciplines, even at Columbia. Aarons says masochism is the “perfect” way to describe the culture in CS: “pushing yourself to the extreme and getting awesome stuff done.”

Rafael Castellanos, a Columbia College senior in CS, admits, “I’ve had stretches where I have not left my room for six days.” Since his room was equipped with a bathroom and kitchen, he would make a huge pot roast on Sunday night that could feed him until Thursday. Only then, he explains, would he order pizza.

Kathy Sun, another CS senior at the School of Engineering and Applied Science, recalls that another student told her that the CLIC lab, a computer lab designated for CS majors, is great precisely because it has no windows. “When you’ve pulled two back-to-back all-nighters, you never have to see the sun rise,” Sun says. “So you never have to feel as bad about yourself.”

Sun laughs. “That sounds horrible, right?”

Shame and masochism
Is any of this actually unique to CS? Aarons insists that “being a CS student is no different from [being a student in] a lot of other engineering disciplines.” But Sadie Zukowski, who graduated last year with a minor in CS and a major in civil engineering, disagrees: “When people ask me if I would have done undergrad over again so that I could study computer science [as my major], my answer is always no … There was a wonderful community formed in the CivE department that the CS department could have never mirrored.”

Even by Columbia’s competitive standards, students in CS seem to ruthlessly rank and re-rank themselves and their classmates, sometimes aloud. Zukowski recalls sitting in the back of a CS lecture at Columbia, while she and a few other classmates overheard a conversation a few seats over about how “slow” and “stupid” a student was for not understanding a concept the teacher had explained. In reality, “many people didn’t understand it,” Zukowski says. “Unfortunately for those of us in the back, we didn’t listen to much of the [professor’s] clarification because we spent our time embarrassed about how we missed such a ‘simple’ topic.” She didn’t ask another question for the rest of the semester.

Unfortunately, this shaming behavior isn’t limited to classmates. Silber says several TAs in the department talk “shit” about students to other TAs, being “mean or rude to students that ask them questions” and calling them “stupid.” Some faculty and administrators seem to be in the dark about this. “This is the first time I hear of any such complaints,” says Tal Malkin, a CS professor who also serves as the “TA czar” of the department, training TAs and facilitating the TA application process.

In addition to having your intelligence constantly judged, Amy Quispe, a senior studying CS at Carnegie Mellon University, explains that there’s the CS-wide belief that any non-programming activities are “somehow taking away from your ability as a hacker.” Will Brown, a Columbia alumnus of CS, says that at Columbia, there’s a “definite divide” between the well-rounded nerds, who are into liberal and fine arts, and the hard-core nerds, who “don’t see the value in other pursuits.” “Personally, I keep it quiet that I spent a year traveling and doing volunteer work,” Quispe says, “because that’s just a witch burning waiting to happen.”

‘People don’t look at me and expect me to be smart’
What can make life in tech more alienating is the focus on certain “types,” as Quispe calls them: or, the domination of CS by white and Asian males. The Computing Research Association reports that, in 2012, over 80 percent of bachelor’s degrees in computer science were awarded to Asian and white students. Men were awarded 86.7 percent of the degrees. At Columbia, only 20 percent of CS majors who graduated in the past two years were women.

“There is the idea that because I’m black and female, I’m probably not that good at CS,” says Stephanie Aligbe, who graduated from Columbia last year. Quispe echoes the sentiment: “People don’t look at me and expect me to be smart. They certainly don’t expect me to be a CS major. I literally don’t look like a CS major.”

The threat of stereotyping that accompanies being a minority in tech only exacerbates the pressure on CS students to constantly prove their intelligence. Even now, at her new master’s program in CS, Zukowski is one of a handful of women in the department, and she says, because of that, “I feel like I constantly have to prove my worth.” Quispe explains, “There’s already so much pressure to prove yourself, but I have even less time to do that. I start out in the red.”

There’s often a necessity to “throw down,” as Sun calls it, and demonstrate your technical skills and knowledge to skeptics. Naomi Saphra, a senior at Carnegie Mellon University, explains that, even away from school at conferences, strangers will quiz her on Linux distros (a family of operating systems), followed by, “Oh, I thought all the girls here were idiots or artists,” or “We’re polling the girls here to see how many of them know [semi-obscure distro].”

In a discipline where collaboration is necessary for any success and where group projects, like every assignment in OS, are commonplace, the extra and seemingly never-ending challenges of “fitting in” and proving yourself can make even the basic work of problem sets more difficult. Working in study groups makes a “big difference” in your CS experience, Sun says. “If you don’t have a social scene, if you don’t feel welcome, if you try to get through
CS doing everything by yourself, then I’m so sorry. I don’t know how you were able to graduate. That seems like hell.”

It’s not hard to imagine, then, that those who are made to feel like outsiders to the CS community are the same people on whom the burden to perform is heavier: Seeking help, whether on problem sets or mental health issues, becomes a greater challenge. Indeed, these are the people who might need help the most. Isn’t there something to be done, at large, to combat what seems to be alienating and systemic behavior? As Saphra puts it, “How do you enforce a cultural shift?”

Coding a counterculture
Before Carnegie Mellon began TartanHacks, a 24-hour hackathon like hackNY’s, Quispe explains that hackathons used to be for a “very specific kind of person.” Quispe, whose organization, ScottyLabs, runs TartanHacks, says that the planners deliberately set out to break down barriers keeping most students away from past hackathons. They allowed women to preregister, taught development classes beforehand, and opened up the event to first-timers. The result? Attendance tripled, with the number of women 25 times greater than at the previously biggest hackathon at Carnegie Mellon. “The reason why WOMEN weren’t going to hackathons were the reasons why PEOPLE weren’t going to hackathons,” Quispe says over Gchat. “By making a more inclusive hackathon, we made a better hackathon for everyone.”

Hacker School is a programming school co-founded by Columbia alumni Nicholas Bergson-Shilcock and David Albert. When they began, they asked themselves, “What are the obstacles in the way of people becoming better programmers?” One issue they identified was the lack of female representation in tech. Hacker School partnered with companies like Etsy and Dropbox to sponsor scholarships for female programmers, and now each batch of programmers is typically 35 to 45 percent women.

Another barrier was fear of asking for help. “One of those things that’s pervasive in the tech world and traditional school is fear,” Bergson-Shilcock says. “People are afraid of looking stupid or appearing ignorant.” To combat this, Hacker School has a few “lightweight” social rules: No “well-actuallys” and no “feigning surprise.” “Well-actuallys” are statements many programmers make to correct minor inaccuracies in conversation (e.g., “Well actually, Linux isn’t a Unix. It’s Unix-based.”). “Feigning surprise” involves acting shocked on finding out that someone doesn’t know something. “If someone asks, ‘Who’s RMS?’ don’t say, ‘You don’t know who Richard Stallman is?!’” says Bergson-Shilcock. “It adds no value, and only serves to make one person feel better by making the other person feel worse.”

There aren’t many rules at Hacker School, but these two, in Bergson-Shilcock’s opinion, help all participants become better programmers, whether they’ve collected a few degrees in CS or they’ve only been coding for a year. In fact, he observes that the more experienced you are, the more likely it is you’ll think, “Oh, I should know X,” and then “rob yourself of the opportunity of ever actually understanding it.” This way, “we spend less time at Hacker School worrying or discussing these things, and more time actually programming, because everyone’s on the same board.”

“Nobody is immediately great at programming,” Bergson-Shilcock insists. He says that Hacker School is “like a writer’s retreat for programmers. That goes a long way to distinguish it from a typical hackathon mentality. The way you make a good programmer is through hard and methodical work, rather than necessarily some 24-hour sprint.”

‘IT IS OKAY TO ASK FOR HELP’
On Feb. 26, a day after the Columbia College and engineering student councils released the news of Tejraj Antooa’s death, Cole Diamond, a School of Engineering and Applied Science senior studying CS and a friend of Tejraj, posted a Facebook status criticizing the administration, saying it “swept the entire situation under the rug” and contributed a campus-wide “stigmatization of mental health.” “Students need to know that IT IS OKAY TO ASK FOR HELP,” he wrote. Terry Martinez, newly appointed interim dean of student life,, says that because Antooa was not a current student at the time and his family had not given “direct permission,” a community-wide email was not sent. When Martinez met with students who knew Antooa and asked if they wanted to do something on campus—a vigil or a memorial service, for example—she says, “they never took me up on the offer or followed up.”

It’s not obvious how much blame we can lay at the feet of administrators and faculty. Toward the middle of every semester, Student Affairs asks instructors to identify students “who seem to be experiencing academic difficulty, whose attendance is poor, or about whom you have any concerns.” According to a statement from Leora Brovman, assistant dean of undergraduate student affairs of SEAS, and Dawn Strickland, a CS adjunct and former Center for Student Advising adviser, SEAS relies on reports from faculty and officers of the University, as well as on academic performance to identify issues.

Despite this system, it remains unclear whether instructors can distinguish students who might be having difficulty, academic or otherwise, through these methods. For one, “poor” attendance in an average CS class is difficult to quantify: Most professors don’t take attendance and students are usually not directly punished for skipping. Tal Malkin, an associate professor in the CS department, says, “The taught an undergrad class there were over 90 students registered, and about 70 showed up. There is no way for me to know if the missing ones are in real trouble, just slacking off, or already know the material and will ace the class anyway.”

“Aren’t TAs and professors also supposed to be looking for potential problems?” I ask Silber, who regularly serves as TA for CS classes. “Yeah, but how much time do they actually spend with their students?” asks Silber. “I have one hour of office hours a week and I only meet a handful of the class’s students. Ideally it would be true, but I don’t think it’s plausible.”

In general, it seems that “detecting when a student is in trouble, and helping them, is quite difficult,” Malkin says, “and we are not trained in it.” When it comes to issues of mental health, “it is quite hard to identify, unless the student comes to talk to me directly (which does happen, for me about one or two students each time I teach a large undergrad class). But otherwise, it is hard to know, beyond just looking at academic performance.”

Policies within the classroom itself often contribute to the CS students’ stress. It is up to professors to craft their assignment-lateness policies. The penalties vary widely; some professors allot a fixed number of no-penalty “late days,” while others refuse to issue extensions, deducting anywhere from 10 to 50 percent off the total grade for each day that the assignment is late.

And then there’s the curve. As many CS majors can attest, a curve makes final grades more uncertain, and students more competitive as a result. “In classes I’ve taken, it has been standard practice to have median test/assignment scores in the 40s and a huge curve,” Arvind Srinivasan, a junior in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences and a CS student, explains, “meaning it’s impossible to figure out your standing in the course until you get your final grade.” The fact that OS and other CS classes are all worth three credits can make it challenging for students to regulate how time-consuming their semesters are. “When classes vary in terms of practically an order of magnitude of difference,” Sun says, “it’s kind of hard to predict just how bad it will be.”

However, according to some—like Sun and Application Development Initiative board member Dina Lamdany, a SEAS sophomore—grades should matter very little for CS majors, because employers looking to hire them prefer to see evidence of specific technical skills and knowledge.

Still, for CS students who don’t want to join a tech company and want to go to graduate school, academic performance is important. In fact, for some companies, like Google, it’s rumored that there are still GPA cutoffs.

Is the only way to remain stress-free in CS to ignore your GPA? If most students have realized this and act accordingly, then this not only defeats the purpose of grades, but can also potentially overemphasize problems as identified through academic performance.

Nieh says that despite making the prerequisites for OS clear—sufficient experience using the programming language C—“a number of students without that background … nevertheless still decide to take the class,” which makes the class “much harder for those students.” Many undergraduates in CS, and at Columbia in general, cannot shake the impulse and unspoken obligation to plow through as much work as possible. As Zukowski puts it, “Even if you try to seek out an easier course load, you feel like you’re not seizing all the opportunities that Columbia has to offer.”

For students, is it actually true, as Diamond pleads us to believe, that “IT IS OKAY TO ASK FOR HELP”? Sun observes that as issues become bigger—as they cross from the realm of hard problem sets to mental illness—“the higher the activation energy needs to be to ask for help.” At Columbia, Sun continues, “You have to really, like, stand up and screech, ‘Guys, I need help! I need help!’ And usually if you do that, you will get lots of help. You have to be prepared to screech.”

When we say it is “OK” to ask for help, we risk assuming, or at least communicating, that students are the ones responsible for their silence. One message of validation is only a drop against the deluge of shame surrounding expressions of weakness and failure. For some CS students, it is simply too costly to ask for help even on a problem set. There’s the risk of a TA calling them “stupid,” or a classmate labeling them “slow.” There’s the risk that, by fact of their gender or race, their intelligence and right to community will be dismissed entirely. Instead, they work alone and they suffer through class. If that’s the case, how do we expect them to plow through a culture of silence to seek help, as we so wish they would? What significance can the words “seek help” even have when you swim in a sea of “don’t”?

When help doesn’t seem to exist with TAs or professors or classmates, some students turn to Google—in other words, they cheat. While there are no statistics breaking down incidents of academic dishonesty by major, a number of students I talked to acknowledged that cheating is a problem in the CS department. Sun says, “Cheating is one manifestation of ‘This is out of my control. I am no longer capable of doing these problems, thus I must cheat.’” It’s a problem that compounds: Not learning the material in an earlier class can set you up for a loss in later classes. “I know of individuals who have gotten to this point in their CS careers,” Sun says. “They just go into a class and don’t even try to learn anymore. They just start … Googling.”

Similarly, if students do ask for help, they often turn to their peers rather than heading to any of the psychological resources available on campus, Sun says, “I feel a lot more comfortable asking for help with my close friends.”

The image of therapy as “weak” can also turn students off, Silber says, and lack of familiarity can be off-putting. “It’s a stranger,” Sun says. “Yes, they’re trained. But also, it’s kind of like, ‘Why would I think that you would understand my situation?’”

Robin DeBates is a therapist based in Seattle who specializes in therapy for “geeks” (as well as “nerds, dweebs, dorks, gamers, and bronies”). DeBates points to the difficulty “mainstream therapists” have communicating with geeks and programmers. For example, she says, the nature of project-driven work can often be misunderstood as signs of bipolar disorder. If a therapist has a misunderstanding of tech culture, this “can lead to heightened feelings of alienation” and a “decreased belief” that the therapist in question can offer help at all. According to DeBates, since programmers have solutions-based work, they usually try to fix their own problems, leading to the possibility that “we may have tried so many solutions that we believe our problems are not solvable because we cannot fix them ourselves.” The patients that DeBates treats tend to respond better to “empirically driven interventions with observable data outcomes,” rather than being asked “how that makes you feel.”

“It’s crucial that mainstream therapists not underestimate risk in hackers, makers, and geeks. Often we are drawn to hacker/maker/geek culture because of deep dissatisfaction with disposable consumer culture,” she says. “The potential for existential crisis coupled with intense cycles of work, play, and rest often lead to dangerous situations with regard to use of alcohol and drugs, excessive risk- taking in recreation and relationships/sexual activity, and acting impulsively on suicidal impulses.”

If what DeBates says is true—that “mainstream” therapy is not suited to hackers and programmers— then we can look at our campus, observing the rifts between the sciences and the humanities and between SEAS and the other undergraduate schools, and see how larger campus initiatives to target stress may not be addressing the tech community well enough. Much of the student body doesn’t seem to have an accurate gauge on what CS is. Srinivasan, who works as Bwog tech, says there “are some on Bwog staff (and elsewhere) that seem to think that CS is equated to tech support, but I think the most nontechnical actually misconstrue CS as more difficult than it is.” Other times, the misunderstanding—of the technical by the non-technical—can alienate. A combined math and CS major, Emily Hough-Kovacs, a Barnard College junior, says, “Sometimes it’s isolating on Barnard’s campus to be in a tech-y major. I always get, ‘Oh! Definitely not my favorite subject!’”

It remains unclear whether psychological services and wellness and mental health advocacy groups on campus are capable of traversing this gap. “I haven’t personally felt a difficulty communicating with students based on their majors,” says Jessica Cannon, coordinator for health promotion and education at Barnard. “[B]ut I think there are a lot of shared experiences that come with being a student here, and we tend to speak more to those than to issues of specific majors.” Meanwhile, neither Furman nor Columbia Psychological Services could be reached for comment on this issue.

Cannon’s idea of “shared experiences,” as well as maintaining an environment of inclusivity, seem to be the cornerstones for most wellness and mental health advocacy groups on campus. One of the guiding principles of the Student Wellness Project is “Listen to everyone. Bring people in. Every individual’s perspective matters.”

But in reality, it’s doubtful whether everyone, or every community, is represented. Membership data are not available, but Rakhi Agrawal, a Barnard College junior who works on SWP, as well as Active Minds and Alice!, says that those involved in wellness are primarily pre- health or have had a strong personal connection to the issues. She says those who are neither of those things and who study engineering or CS “just don’t have time to participate in health and wellness things. The resources might be here on campus for them, but they literally don’t escape their world long enough to grab onto them long-term.”

The issues always seem to return to ideas of community. “When we create trusted networks where people truly care for each others’ well-being, we increase the likelihood of successful early intervention. At the same time, social support decreases many risk factors for negative outcomes of mental illness,” DeBates says. “When these efforts are led from the grassroots and people start to see how profound their relationships are with each other, there’s a lot of potential for culture shift.”

Progress Report
None of this is to say everyone is unhappy. Lamdany says, “I love being a CS student,” and describes the culture as “incredibly liberating.” The CS department, according to Sun, is “very, very friendly to students and very, very friendly to stress levels.” For Aarons, going to hackathons “does mean that I fall asleep at 3 p.m. after a full 14-hour coding session, but it’s something I enjoy.”

I, too, fell hard for computer science and programming. “It’s like the perfect marriage of theory and practice,” I once said, probably giddy, probably to an indifferent classmate. In CS I could see the beauty of mathematics, as well as the potential to, well, “make a difference.” I loved it then. I love it now. I’m on leave this semester, and I’ll graduate as a CS major in December. I have plans to get a Ph.D. in CS someday.

Computer science students may love CS and programming. We may feel an inimitable joy while programming, even at 5 a.m., running on the fumes of Red Bull and the itch of “I just have to finish this.” But as real as love and joy are, they don’t preclude criticism of our microcosm. If anything, they should motivate us to protect what we have and to ask what can be done better. So, can we ask ourselves, as they did at Hacker School, what obstacles are getting in the way of our becoming better—better programmers, better computer scientists, and better members of this community?

Because the fact remains that our community is not perfect, and people do feel alienated. Employers throw themselves at CS graduates, especially from Columbia, and the salary and average benefits package (paid vacations, insurance, etc.) would astound many humanities students. We are incredibly lucky. But, as Quispe says, “Everything looks good on the outside, so it can be hard to admit that there are problems. The truth is, there are just not enough people going into (and staying in) computer science. If we want to fix that problem, we have to start to ask ourselves what we’re doing wrong.”

We say it is OK to ask for help, but how can we make this an environment where this is actually true? When we allow TAs to call their students “stupid,” when we let students call each other “slow,” when we plunge into classes and schedules we are woefully under-prepared for, we destroy an environment where we feel free to learn and, in the process, erase each “it’s OK to ask for help” we’ve ever said. For as long as we rely on mantras like “seek help,” we set aside the opportunity to look upon our community and investigate if, perhaps, we are complicit in our peers’ stress and alienation.

While this article isn’t meant as an exhaustive study, it is intended to raise questions as to what isn’t working. The administration and faculty seem to misunderstand, if not exacerbate, the stressful life of the average student. The psychological resources and wellness organizations don’t seem to penetrate deeply enough. The issues of specific communities can go unheard when experiences common to all students are prioritized in the name of “inclusivity,” and discussions split along pre-existing divisions in the general student body.

There are still lessons here for people who aren’t in CS or even who aren’t interested in mental health advocacy. What I’m discussing here gets at the larger, never-ending questions of how to foster communication, how to make people feel safe, and how to build a community. I have worries, of course, that these concerns will be dismissed because someone will say we’ve chosen our paths and need to ride out the consequences. Or someone will compare ours with, say, MIT’s suicide rate, or the culture at Carnegie Mellon. But we already know that our community is imperfect and that people are in pain. Do we just ignore that? If we don’t act in the name of community, what do we stand for?

*Editor’s Note: Name changed.

Kyla Cheung
vol. 14, issue 10
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