Yale mourns death of Luchang Wang ’17 by apparent suicide

Luchang Wang, from a Facebook photo.
Luchang Wang, from a Facebook photo.

The Yale student community was rocked last night with news that sophomore Luchang Wang, ’17 — mathematics major and member of  Yale’s Silliman College — had died Tuesday of an apparent suicide. She was 20 years old.

Friends became concerned after Wang posted some worrisome messages to a public Facebook thread on Tuesday, prompting the rapid organization of a campus-wide search by students and friends. The search was coordinated online with friends posting places they had canvassed on Facebook — some ventured as far as East Rock, the park north of New Haven.

At 2 p.m., a public Facebook status authored by Tammy Pham ’15 told Yale students in New Haven to search high-rise buildings, school buildings and public areas for signs of Wang. Students began to comment, adding locations that they had searched, some even venturing to East Rock to look for their friend.

Students also contacted Silliman College and Yale Police to officially report Wang missing, launching a door-to-door search. They later reported to police the discovery that Wang had purchased airfare to San Francisco, California; the plane was scheduled to land Tuesday morning. Later that afternoon, police also discovered that the last time Wang had used her Yale ID to swipe into Silliman College was two days prior, and asked students to halt their frantic New Haven search under the presumption that she had boarded her flight and was no longer in the New Haven area.

By 6pm Tuesday, Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway delivered the tragic news to the Yale student community by email that Wang’s body had been recovered in California.

Holloway’s email read in part:

“It is my very sad duty to tell you that Luchang Wang, Silliman ’17, is presumed to have died earlier today in California…The California Highway Patrol has been in touch with the Yale Police and reports no evidence of foul play nor any indication of an accident. It appears that Luchang may have taken her own life.”

Wang attended high school in Des Moines, Iowa, and in addition to her many academic accomplishments in math and science was an accomplished cross-country runner. She was also moved by the fight for social justice, and was involved in Yale Political Union’s Party of the Left  and the Yale Effective Altruists. Friends remember her as an inspiring, witty, and endlessly kind young woman:

“Her motivation in life was to make the world a better place,” said Tammy Pham ’15, Wang’s close friend and fellow Effective Altruists member. “It’s sad to see someone with such a pure love go like this.”

From their very first conversation, Wang demonstrated remarkable openness and intimacy, said Caroline Posner ’17, who met Wang through the Party of the Left. She was soft-spoken and modest, Posner added.

“When she spoke at party debates, it was out of a sense of duty to engage the room, never a desire to hear herself speak, as it often is for many of us,” Posner wrote in an email. “She was so ridiculously grateful for a life that was never easy or fair to her.”

Wang’s sense of civic duty extended beyond Yale’s campus. She cared deeply about social justice, traveling to New York City and marching in honor of Michael Brown with people she had never met, said Carlee Jensen ’15, who also befriended Wang through the YPU. Jensen added that Wang never hesitated to push her intellectually, challenging her whenever she said something flippant or tried to avoid a serious question.

Wang is survived by her father, mother and younger sister.

I’m heartbroken by Luchang’s loss, not only because the world seems to have lost a powerful young voice this week, but also because I am also part of the Yale community and have spoken on the issue of mental health, depression and suicide as it relates to the AAPI student community several times on this campus in the last year. In each of my workshops, which I strive to construct as a safe space for attendees, students have discussed their personal experiences with depression and mental illnesses, either with regard to themselves and/or with their families. Many have talked about how they feel as if they are literally struggling in silence on this campus when it comes to their depression, and at each of my workshops, students have come forward to discuss the inadequacies Yale’s mental health services.

These AAPI Yale students report counselors who are clearly impatient and apathetic, rather than caring and concerned, with a student’s depression. One student recounted how a counselor told her at the end of their 4 sessions to call the office “before 5pm” if the student found themselves contemplating suicide. Students have reported in op-eds that Yale administration has pushed students to leave the school rather than to offer them mental health treatment; similar stories were confirmed to me by students speaking individually after my workshops. When I spoke about the specific need for AAPI students to have access to culturally-sensitive therapists who don’t offer a one-size-fits-all approach to mental health treatment that ignores the specific challenges faced by AAPI students, most of my workshop attendees were shocked — even the idea of personalized mental health care was an anathema on this campus.

The Asian American community at Yale is small and tight-knit, and mental health is clearly an energizing issue on this campus: at every workshop I have held on this campus on this topic, I have spoken to a packed room of students, most of whom relish the chance to confront this issue head on. For many, this is the first time they’ve had a frank conversation about Asian American mental health. I am thankful for the times I’ve been able to facilitate these spaces; but I can’t help but ask: where is the Yale administration on this issue?

I also can’t help but feel angry, not only at the spectre of depression and mental illness that has claimed yet another young life (of far too many lost), but also at myself. Did Luchang attend one of my workshops? Was she one of the many students who spoke to me during or after my talks? Could I have done more to help her? Could I have worked harder with on-campus Asian American students to organize more mental health workshops? Could I have done more to give Luchang and students like her the resources she needed, and to give them to her long before Tuesday?

In the end, I have nothing but sadness at Wang’s death, prayers for her friends and family, and the enduring hope that one day we can finally begin a real dialogue on the topic of on-campus mental health, particularly with regard to the AAPI community, and finally implement the many changes needed to slow the rate at which depression claims the lives of this nation’s young people.

The Asian American Cultural Center at Yale issued the following statement by Facebook in regards to Wang’s death:

We at the AACC mourn for the loss of Luchang Wang, SM ’17. We were glad to have her as part of our community, and our hearts go out to her family and friends.

Yale is offering several services for students: Yale Mental Health and Counseling Services will have professional counselors available at  Yale Health until 11pm with an additional counselor on-call at 203-432-0123.

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. As soon as it appears safe, you can also bring that person to the hospital for additional care.

Read More: Top 10 Myths About Asian Americans and Mental Health

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