Rae Na Lee, ’19, is Second Student Death at Yale in Past Week

Rae Na Lee, ’19 in a KBS 2TV show appearance in 2014. (Photo Credit: KBS 2TV)

In a message circulated late yesterday to members of the Yale University community, Yale University dean of students Jonathan Holloway broke the tragic news that Yale student Rae Na Lee, ’19, had died in her home in New Haven, Connecticut. Lee was the second Yale student to die in the last week. This past Monday, the Yale community learned that Hale Ross, ’18, had died of apparent suicide over the weekend.

According to a Prezi slideshow created in 2014, Lee — who also apparently went by the name Coco on social media — was born in Seoul, South Korea in 1995 to parents Yong Kyu (Jerry) Lee and Se-Ryang Ju. Lee’s father was a member of Koreana, a popular South Korean band founded in 1962 and best known for their hit “Hand in Hand”, which became the official song of the 1988 Summer Olympics. Lee was also the cousin of Clara Lee, a popular South Korean actress and entertainer.

As a teenager, Lee enrolled in school in Switzerland where the unexpected accidental deaths of two friends following a party resulted in Lee withdrawing and returning to Korea. There, Lee discovered a passion and a talent for fencing, and became the mentee of Jimi Jung, CEO of Lourus, an educational consulting firm, who helped Lee gain early enrollment at Yale. While at Yale, Lee participated as part of the Yale Fencing Team. This past March, Lee announced her pending marriage to her boyfriend of two years, Sun Ho Lee, who is the son of CJ Corporation president Jae Hyun Lee; the two reportedly wed in Korea in April.

Although Lee was originally accepted to Yale’s Class of 2018 according to her Prezi, Yale University administration reported Lee as part of the Class of 2019 and said that she was not actively enrolled in classes at the time of her death. She was remembered by those who knew as being “like the sun.”

“Everywhere she went she brought with her an indefatigable joy and effervescence that we will never truly be able to put into words,” said the Yale Women’s Fencing Team in a statement.

The following is the full text of the message sent by President Holloway to the Yale community, informing students and staff of Lee’s passing:

To the Yale College community,

I write to you with great sadness on behalf of the Yale College Dean’s Office and Julia Adams, Head of Calhoun College, to let you know that Rae Na Lee, a member of the Calhoun class of 2019, died early this morning. Our hearts go out to Rae Na’s husband and parents, who were with Rae Na at her home here in New Haven, as well as to her friends. Although Rae Na was not currently enrolled in Yale College, we know that this news, coming as it does during a week with other loss and sadness on our campus, resonates deeply within our community.

As we make arrangements to remember Rae Na in ways that respect her family’s privacy and grief, I encourage you to support one another and to turn to those who are here to support you. Please reach out to your friends, your head of college and dean, a freshman counselor, or your advisers. If you would like to speak with a counselor from Mental Health and Counseling, you can walk over to the Yale Health Center at 55 Lock Street until 11:00, or call (203) 432-0123 and choose option 1 any time, day or night, to get in touch with a counselor on call. You can also reach out to the chaplain’s office, which is open every day until 11:00 p.m. and available by phone, including throughout the weekend, at (203-432-1128).

Later today, the heads of college will be in touch with their students about times and locations for informal gatherings that will give you a chance to be together. This is a very sad time for Rae Na’s family and friends, and, indeed, our entire Yale College family. I hope you can draw comfort from the strength of our community.

Both Lee and Hale Ross were members of Yale’s beleaguered Calhoun College. Ross, a 20-year-old economics major, died Sunday evening. He was described by those who knew him as a “caring” student-athlete who enjoyed comedic novels and who had a “sharp” sense of humor. A talented runner, Ross is remembered by his friends and his track & field teammates for his wit and his caring nature.

“He worked extremely hard, was a caring and good person, and had an awful, and thus hilarious, sense of humor,” [teammate Gianmarco] Terrones said. “Hale will be very deeply missed by everybody who has ever had the privilege of being on a team with him or gotten to know him and that is a testament to how special he was to us.”

Although the causes of Lee’s and Ross’ death have not been officially reported, Yale University has faced widespread student criticism for inadequacies in current mental health resources, as well as its controversial withdrawal & readmission program; the latter had been cited as a major source of anxiety for Luchang Wang, ’17, in a note she left before her death last year. Currently, Yale students who are diagnosed with mental health concerns are encouraged to take a medical leave from the school, which many students feel provides a disincentive for the school to mount a sincere effort to treat mental health concerns on-campus, isolates struggling students from valuable social support networks, and jeopardizes the readmission chances of students who are forced into medical withdrawal. Consequently, many students privately confess that they are unlikely to seek therapeutic or administrative help for mental health issues they experience during the academic year.

Yale, like many Ivy League universities, have yet to adequately prioritize mental health issues on their campuses. Students — and in particular, Asian American students — die by suicide at Harvard, MIT and Cornell at several times the rate of the national average. Yet, issues of student mental health and wellness remain profoundly unaddressed by the administration at many of our nation’s top colleges and universities.

If you or someone you know may be depressed or struggling with any other mental health concern, please check out these resources:

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, please call:

  • 1-800-273-8255 (TALK), 24hr National Suicide Prevention Hotline, >150 languages available
  • 1-877-990-8585, 24hr Asian LifeNet Hotline, Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese, Korean, Fujianese available

If you believe that you or your friend is in immediate physical danger, call 911 and do not allow the person to remain unaccompanied as long as it is safe to stay. If it appears safe to do so, you can also bring that person to the hospital for additional care.

This post was updated on Monday, November 7, 2016 with statements remembering Rae Na Lee from the Yale Women’s Fencing Team, and with a link to Lee’s obituary at the Yale Daily News. It was also updated with remembrances of Hale Ross from his obituary at the Yale Daily News.

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