This Spring when fences sprung up along our campus bridges, my friend and I initiated a competition to “Re-Think the Fence.” We didn’t know what this meant at the time, and when asked for clarification, we remained vague. Something was unsettling about those austere chain-link fences and we wanted people to give them some thought.
Is a physical barrier needed to prevent students from committing suicide? If so, how impenetrable must a barrier be? Can all risk be diverted or could it be mitigated in some other way? These are difficult questions and — although the administration had already weighed in on the situation, — we were not prepared to do so. The competition therefore remained open, and we invited both literal and figurative solutions to Cornell’s apparent ‘bridge problem.’
The most striking images were those that challenged our conception of the bridge, and bridge fencing. They are, for the most part, imagined and extreme. Too many people jumping into the gorge? Cover it. Too much stress? Relax and play games. Questioning the purpose of life? Turn to religion. Is Cornell a suicide school? No, we’ve got blue lights.
Or could we do without the fences entirely?
(image credits from top: chris ryan, ken bongort, benn colker, mike esposito, mj raub, myself, noah ives)
The University has defended the fence and plans to commission an architect to design permanent barriers along the many campus bridges. I hope that this designer, and the community as a whole, recognize that a physical barrier — in whatever form — can only do so much. The most effective ‘fence’ to prevent suicide at Cornell might not be physical at all.