The only good news that might come out of the profoundly tragic news of WC student Jacob Marberger’s suicide this weekend is that more information will come to the surface which could prevent these sad circumstances from being repeated in the future.
Like any tragedy of this proportion, the response individually and institutionally should always be, “What could have been done to prevent this from happening?” But in Jacob’s case, this takes on a special meaning given the multitude of people, departments, and social organizations who had contact with this young man in the weeks leading to his dramatic downward spiral.
Even with the little we know, it is clear that bullying, alcohol abuse, and zero tolerance policies might have played a role in Jacob Marberger’s swing from a fully engaged campus leader to an isolated and despondent outsider. Given that this transition seemingly happened only within a matter of weeks, there is much to process here.
It seems inconceivable that Washington College will not take this self-examination very seriously. While the immediate disappearance of Jacob posed an important test for college leadership, it will now be how well the school responds in the aftermath of his suicide that will determine any long-term harm to reputation or mission.
But beyond the institutional response, one can only hope that the students who had contact with Jacob will also undertake a form of self-examination. Was there enough tolerance, enough listening, enough empathy or were there quick rushes to judge and stigmatize? Those kinds of painful questions must be considered as part of any successful healing process.
The danger in this is the impulse to play a blame game rather than participate in a learning experience. Only one person decided to end Jacob’s life, and that person was Jacob himself. The eagerness to point fingers might be predictable, but it is a wasteful exercise that needs to yield quickly to a more thoughtful analysis for both the school and all who knew him.
As Carl Jung pointed out years ago, “Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses.” For Jacob’s sake, let that not happen here.