WSN Archive
Student death moves university to reassess Bobst safety
11/4/09 4:49

In the wake of an NYU student's death in Bobst Library yesterday, the university plans to reassess its safety protocol in the building.

At approximately 4:30 a.m., CAS junior Andrew Williamson-Noble fell from the 10th floor of the library in an apparent suicide.

Williamson-Noble was found unconscious in the atrium lobby of Bobst and rushed to St. Vincent's Hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival, shortly after 5 a.m. The medical examiner is still determining the exact cause of death, according to the NYPD.

Yesterday, an anonymous NYPD source told The New York Times that a suicide note was found in Williamson-Noble's dormitory room. NYU Local reported that a high-ranking NYU administrator also said a suicide note was found. Neither an NYPD spokesperson nor NYU President John Sexton confirmed this. Sexton said last night that he knows nothing about a suicide note.

Several students said they felt or heard the incident. LSP freshman Zarrin Maani, a member of WSN's editorial board, was studying in the library late last night when she heard the sound. She said the entire library seemed to shake — she described it as "earthquake-like."

Bobst was closed early yesterday morning, but reopened shortly before 9 a.m. Students who had classes inside Bobst waited outside before it opened, while cleaning crews entered and exited the building.

Sexton entered the library around 9:40 a.m.

"I just am learning the details of it. We always mourn when a terrific young person passes," Sexton told a WSN reporter. "We have to find out how and why, of course, and then work through it."

University spokesman John Beckman said it is unclear how Williamson-Noble accessed the 10th floor at 4:30 a.m. Before his death, the library stacks closed at 1 a.m., but elevators to the upper floors operated 24 hours a day. In light of Williamson-Noble's death, Bobst elevators will now shut off after 1 a.m., Beckman said. Additionally, the library stacks will close at midnight instead of 1 a.m. until further notice, said Henry Chung, NYU's vice president for student health. According to Beckman, the university will review security protocol, as well as the efficacy of the Lexan plastic barriers installed above the staircase railings in Bobst.

"This is the kind of thing that prompts us to stop and review the practices that we have in place," Beckman said.

Counselors were on-call yesterday in the library and Coral Towers residence hall, where Williamson-Noble had lived. Vice President for Student Affairs Marc Wais said that he, along with members of the Wellness Exchange and Associate Vice President of Student Affairs Tom Ellett, had spoken with Williamson-Noble's floormates and professors.

Yesterday was the first reported case of an apparent student suicide within the university in nearly a year. On Nov. 15, 2008, a CAS senior committed suicide in his apartment in Brooklyn.

During the fall 2007 semester, a student jumped from the roof of University residence hall, and another student was found dead in his room at Water Street residence hall.

Prior to those incidents, five student deaths rocked the campus community during the 2003-4 academic year, including two at Bobst Library.

Following the second death at the library, the university quickly restricted all access to the library's interior balconies. Between October and November of 2003, Lexan plastic panels were constructed around all balconies and staircases to act as a barrier between the building's upper balconies and the atrium below. Lexan, a high-impact plastic, is more resistant and more expensive than Plexiglas.

In addition to the protective physical barriers to suicide, NYU created a 24-hour hotline, the Wellness Exchange, which students can call when they are in need of immediate emotional support.

According to Dr. Jess Shatkin, director of Undergraduate Studies in Child and Adolescent Mental Health at the NYU Langone Medical Center, a combination of factors among college students — including living away from home, managing one's own time and expenses, and dealing with peer pressure — can contribute to anxiety and depression. He said these issues may be more difficult for students at large, decentralized universities such as NYU.

"There is a level of monitoring that just can't happen on an urban campus," Shatkin said.

But Shatkin credited NYU as being very responsive to the issue of suicide, praising the changes made in the past five years. According to Chung, the implementation of suicide prevention initiatives has reduced risks of suicide on campus. NYU is not more susceptible to student suicide than other college campuses, Chung said.

Counseling is available at all times through the Wellness Exchange: 212.443.9999.