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University News

Grad student dies after fall from SciLi

After Hyoun Ju Sohn’s GS death, over 300 community members grieve at evening vigil

By and
University News Editor and Metro Editor
Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Providence Police officers taped off the area between the Sciences Library and the Center for Information Technology after Hyoun Ju Sohn GS fell.

Updated April 1, 2015 at 2:25 a.m.

Hyoun Ju Sohn GS died Tuesday after falling through a 12th floor window of the Sciences Library just before noon.

Sohn was a first-year physics doctoral student from South Korea, President Christina Paxson P’19 wrote in a community-wide email Tuesday evening. He graduated from Columbia, where he completed his undergraduate studies, in 2013.

Lindsay Lague, public information officer for the Providence Police Department, told The Herald Sohn’s death was a suicide. Paxson called it “an apparent suicide” in an earlier email to the community Tuesday afternoon.

Sohn fell to the area between the library and the Center for Information Technology after breaking the window.

“Some students and staff walked by the body” before police officers roped off the area with yellow caution tape, said Thomas Doeppner, associate professor of computer science and vice chair of the department, who was in his office in the CIT at the time of the incident.

Sarah Perelman ’15, a former Herald science and research editor who was on the third floor when the student jumped, said police officers arrived at the scene within a minute and a half and covered his body.

Jodie Gill, program director for the Science Center, who was also on the third floor, said Providence Police officers were already at the library searching for a distressed student before the incident occurred. They told her they had been notified of a possible suicide attempt earlier in the day, she said. The Providence Police Department could not be reached by press time to confirm that they received such information.

The 12th floor was closed following the incident and remained closed at press time, though all other floors remained open.

Police cars and a truck from the Office of the State Medical Examiners lined Waterman Street, which was closed to traffic between Thayer and Brook Streets for at least an hour after the incident. The street had reopened by 2:15 p.m.

Paxson, Department of Public Safety Chief Mark Porter, Executive Vice President for Planning and Policy Russell Carey ’91 MA’06 and Vice President for Campus Life and Student Services Margaret Klawunn were all present at the scene.

Klawunn asked students to clear the area around 12:30 p.m. and pointed those seeking support to Counseling and Psychological Services and the Office of the Chaplains and Religious Life. Paxson also publicized the support resources available to community members in her emails.

Doeppner said the CS department asked CAPS representatives and deans from the Office of Student Life to “come over and talk to everyone who” witnessed the event. He sent an email to computer science students to let them know that support services were available at the CIT.

On Tuesday evening, over 300 community members gathered for a vigil on the steps of the Stephen Robert ’62 Campus Center to mourn Sohn’s death.

After student volunteers distributed candles and note cards to all in attendance, administrators and University chaplains spoke to the assembled community members. Audience members were encouraged to write down their fears, hopes and prayers on these pieces of paper, which were fed into a small fire at the gathering’s close.

Paxson struggled to speak to the crowd without crying. “I’m sorry, I can’t do this,” she said at one point during her address.

But she did communicate her main hope for the University. “It’s a time when we have to think — how can we care for each other better as a community?”

– With additional reporting by Baylor Knobloch

 A full list of support resources is available here.


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  1. Concerned Alum '01 says:

    Time to stand up for men and their needs.

  2. RIP

  3. Bianca Corduval says:

    Chris, You don’t know. But you have to talk as if you do, so that you can look like you are running the place. But then “apparent” suicide is a word to help you to cover your butt. Must be wonderful to be able to slide through a job.

    • Damn, why the hell do we get all those insanely mean uncalled for, knee-jerk comments? Is that how your mama raised you?

    • Abi Kulshreshtha says:

      BDH moderators, please consider deleting Bianca’s comment. Whether or not it was posted just to garner a reaction, it’s disrespectful and almost reckless in the face of the loss our campus suffered yesterday.

      • I agree

      • Though this is probably the most blatant, this person has been posting this sort of comment for a very long time now; it seems pretty clear by now that the only moderation on the comment section is the automod.

  4. No words are ever adequate to the loss of life, and there is something distinctly heartbreaking about sudden death of a bright-eyed, eager young person just starting out. May those who knew Hyoun Ju Sohn and those who loved him find peace in community. Be kind; you never know when it may make a major difference.

  5. Maybe now the university, the Graduate School, and CAPS will recognize how crucial it is to reach out to the grad students on campus who are suffering. There are (minimal) resources on campus, but many grad students are unaware of them, don’t have the time, or are afraid of using them because of stigma. “Wellness” sessions aren’t enough. People need to know when they’re NOT well, there is somewhere to go, no judgement allowed.

    This is such a tragic event. My heart goes out to the student’s family and friends. I hope that some small good may come from this, that we all recognize that we are part of a community and have a responsibility to look out for each other. Check in on a friend or classmate today.

    • Philomena Bradford says:

      Hi GS ’03.

      I’m a second year doctoral student in the TAPS department. I agree that there are minimal resources, and am initiating dialogue with the director of Counseling and Psych Services in order to begin an ongoing Bipolar and Depression support group for grads, undergrads, faculty and staff. This campus needs this kind of stigma-free space.

      If you have thoughts about this or about other ways the GS and CAPS can reach out to grad students on campus, please let me know!


    • I’m a second year doctoral student in the physics department. I shared an office with Hyoun-Ju and have gotten to know him well over this year. Hyoun-Ju showed no signs of his struggle before this tragedy. His was the last name I expected to hear when we were all called together to learn of what had happened. We chatted the day before, as he graded lab reports, about our summer plans and how there’s still time for fun, even when studying for quals. He joked about how much easier it would be to give everyone the same grade, but that he cared too much about his students to do so.

      It is tempting to speculate on the reasons, as I’m sure we’re all
      searching to make sense of this. It’s also tempting to shake a fist at the university and blame them for not providing enough. The truth is, though, that often there is nothing we could have seen or done. Severe depression is a disease, and not one that responds rationally.

      The first year PhD students in my department are a tight-knit group. They take the same gruelling classes, and bond over their hard work. The atmosphere is cooperative, not competitive, and Hyoun-Ju worked right alongside them. I was his TA, and he always sought me for help with his work when he needed it. He was, to all of us, an optimistic, joyful, and enthusiastic student.

      In the aftermath, we’ve been reminded of the resources available to us, and we’ve all made a pledge to reach out to one another if we ever feel overwhelmed. Our advisers and administration, and now even the faculty, have reminded us again and again of the psychological services and hotlines at our disposal. It’s not for lack of trying to help us, or make us feel welcome. Sometimes, a disease shows itself and its sufferers can be spotted and helped. Sometimes, we just don’t know until it’s too late.

    • Unfortunately you or I will not be able to discern if the university….. recognized anything. Even if they recognized something, they would do nothing about it. We would not even be able to tell if it is their stupidity or if they just do not care. Students should just try to move on to other universities that have more intelligent leadership.

  6. I feel so sad for him and for his family in South Korea too! International students face additional challenges and it is not always easy to “fit in” and find a truly supportive community when living in a foreign country.

    I hope that this tragic event will at least help us reflect on the need for mutual support and friendship, to make our campus a more human and less competitive and work-oriented place.

  7. If you’re looking for information about Emma Maier, she writes for the BDH under the pen name “M. Dzhali Maier”.

  8. Men’s issues are largely ignored or actively opposed by the current brand of Social Justice. Men die by suicide 3.5x more often than women. On
    average, there are 117 suicides per day. White males accounted for 7 of
    10 suicides in 2014.

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