It was with great sadness, professional interest, and morbid curiosity that I read the full text of a recent suicide’s note to his family and friends. It is almost unheard of that there be public access to such text, but the parents of this sad young man thought his final words to them should be shared with a large audience.
Grief takes many forms.
Thomas (Trey) Malone was a twenty-year-old on-again, off-again student at Amherst College who killed himself by jumping off the Sunshine Skyway (a bridge in Florida) on the Sunday afternoon of June 17, 2012.
Trey was a gifted writer. His suicide note is heart-breaking for all of the reasons you might expect, but for me even more so because Trey clearly was a literate young man who understood metaphor and allusion and used them both with grace and confidence.
What is also clear is that Trey was deeply depressed—a condition he likely suffered for years and used alcohol to alleviate. Nevertheless, he beat back his monsters so decisively that he was Valedictorian of his prep school and was admitted to the highly competitive and highly ranked liberal arts institution, Amherst College. Things appear to have fallen apart when he arrived at Amherst. Trey left the New England campus before completing his freshman year, took some time off, then returned, again as a freshman, two years later, only to leave again after one semester.
What happened after Trey returned to Amherst in the fall of 2011 was but one of the steps on the path that ended at the Sunshine Skyway. Let Trey tell this part of his story in his own words:
the sexual assault was too much. There was no adequate form of preparation available for that and no repair afterwards. What began as an earnest effort to help on the part of Amherst, became an emotionless hand washing. In those places I should’ve received help, I saw none. I suppose there are many possible reasons for this. But in the end, I’m still here and so too is that night. I hold no ill will nor do I place an iota of blame upon my family. I blame a society that remains unwilling to address sexual assault and rape. One that pays some object form of lip service to the idea of sexual crimes while working its hardest to marginalize its victims. One where the first question a college president can pose to me, regarding my own assault is, “Have you handled your drinking problem?”
My story is far from exceptional in this regard. Every two minutes there is another victim. 97% of rapists will never spend a day in jail. 1 in every 6 woman in the US has been a victim of rape and 1 in 33 men. Despite this, every awful myth about rape persists. Society will continue to blame women for the clothes they wear (despite hard evidence showing no link) and continue to say, “You shouldn’t have been there” when 73% of rapes are committed by non strangers and more than 50% take place within one mile of the victims home. (4 in 10 take place at their home) Sexual crime is viewed as inconsequential unless the fabled “dark alley with a gun” assault occurs and even then, women face the eternal, “why were you there? What were you wearing?” badgering.
He continues what he calls his “rant” against sexual assault for another paragraph before beginning his bittersweet goodbyes.
Needless to say, when the disturbingly cloying blog The Good Men Project published Trey’s letter, it caused a stir on the campus of Amherst College. President Biddy Martin quickly wrote to her community:
November 6, 2012
An open letter to the Amherst Community:
I write to you today with an enormous sense of sorrow. Yesterday, a website for the Good Men Project posted a suicide note written by a former Amherst student, Trey Malone, who took his own life in June 2012. Trey’s death is a tragedy. My deepest sympathies are with his family members and friends, who have suffered the most painful imaginable loss.
Suicide could not be more heart-wrenching. It leaves those who remain not only with incomprehensible loss, but also with painful questions—about what more could have been done, what any or all of us may have missed, what could have caused such a sense of isolation and despair.
Out of respect for Trey’s privacy and the privacy of his family, the College has not been public about what he experienced at Amherst. Trey’s note, parts of which we read in the summer, causes us to pause and reflect on the insights and perspective he wished to offer. The lessons in his words have informed the on-going changes we are making at the College directly. When I learned of Trey’s suicide this summer and after consultation with the Board of Trustees, I sought a review of the College’s response, and, for the purpose of informing our community, I share the following from that review:
Trey was a first-year student at Amherst in the fall of 2009, and again in the fall of 2011. In September of 2011, Trey reported a sexual assault involving another student. The College responded immediately to the report, provided Trey with access to support and resources, and in October of 2011 the College resolved the report through our disciplinary system, resulting in a finding of responsibility for the respondent. Through the remainder of the Fall semester, the College provided on-going outreach and support to Trey. In December of 2011, Trey requested, and the College granted, an academic withdrawal. In the Spring of 2012, Trey was discussing academic options with the Office of Dean of Students for what he hoped would be a return to Amherst.
Since learning of his death early this summer, I have often thought about Trey. Unfortunately, I did not have the opportunity to meet or get to know him. In our brief conversation in December 2011, related to an appeal process, I offered him my sympathy for what had happened to him, asked whether he was getting adequate help, and sought to confirm his views on sanctions for the student who was found responsible for sexual misconduct. I recall being struck by the kindness in Trey’s voice.
While these facts can seem meaningless in the face of the loss of life, I am sharing information about our response, because I believe it relevant to our community’s understanding of this tragedy and to the dialogue we have been engaged in this semester. In recent days, this campus has come together to have frank and candid conversations about the community and culture we want and the many barriers to realizing our goals at Amherst, as elsewhere. I expect that we will face this news with the same courage, open dialogue, and care for one another that has marked our best responses to what we already knew.
The pain and finality of Trey’s suicide eclipse all other concerns, yet I call on us all to reflect on what we knew, accept that we cannot know everything, and learn from this horrible loss. The literature on suicide tells us that talking about suicidal thoughts or feelings helps to alleviate those feelings and, yet, the majority of students who contemplate suicide never tell anyone. Please make sure that you and those around you have the support you need. Pay close attention to your own feelings and behaviors as well as those of your friends and fellow students. I urge you to seek our help and ask you to encourage others to do the same.
As always, my door is open.
President Martin’s letter is remarkable in its excessive length. Many paragraphs were necessary to ensure she said of all of the words the college’s lawyers and risk managers put in her mouth, on top of the teachable-moment language student affairs staff insisted she insert. What jumps out at me, however, are her fifth and sixth paragraphs, where she plainly contradicts Trey’s version of their conversation and where she just as plainly reminds readers that they only know one side of a complicated story. Is she “blaming the victim”? No, she is not.
I have never met President Martin, and don’t know much about her, but she has my sympathy for the no-win spot she finds herself. Why do I believe her heavily censored version of what took place on a campus some 1200 miles away from where a former Amherst College student jumped off a bridge to his death and not that of the suicide? Once again, Trey speaks for himself:
These days, I’ve become more tired of remembering the past and wondering about the future. I’ve slowly watched that future collapse in on itself whether by my own actions or those of others and now I’m simply tired. My future is rubble and while below that rubble, there is still a foundation, my arms are weak and my tools are broken. My job is gone, relationships strained, and mugshot posted.
alcohol, especially given arresting officer Wildt’s finding that Trey’s underage sister Callan, present at the party along with other minors, had a BAC of .116. Writes Trey about the party: “Callan, [w]hat happened over the last week has nothing to do with this, if nothing else, it was one helluva way to end it.” Nor is it unreasonable to assume that Trey did not understand that his abuse of alcohol might have been the source of his troubles and, ultimately, his inability to withstand them. To his friends Trey says:
Sheng, Sorry I fell out of touch dude. You’re a great guy and I’m sorry that I’ll miss the parties. Make them count for me and even if it annoys you, try to take some Women and genders study classes. Tell nick I say hey (or bye I guess) as well. I’m not drunk enough to rant about politics right now, sorry. Either way, it meant more than you will ever know that you were such a good friend to me when I got back to Amherst.
Nathan- Freshman, you’re far too nice for your own good. No one dude, should be so willing to listen and talk. Sorry that I can’t give you the full story now, but I imagine the police report is funny as hell. Keep reading and do something important. Do me a favor and tell Sara Simonsson that my fake ID came in as well.
Everyone else, I’m sorry, my hand is falling off. If we were friends, remember me for at least a week or so. Please listen to what I said about sexual assault. There are millions more just like me that need help and no, someone who is drunk cannot give consent, fuckers.
Were Trey Malone still alive, I’d want to ask him exactly the same question he claims President Martin asked him. This young man drank too much and encouraged others, including his own sister, to do the same. The counselors who are in all likelihood running amok on the Amherst College campus to “educate about sexual assault” and “encourage students to come forward with their own experiences with sexual predators” have it all wrong. They are addressing the consequences of the real problem instead of the problem itself: drinking by students who do not control the amount they drink.
Being drunk may have made Trey Malone an easy target for sexual assault. It also lost him his job, got him charged with a serious crime, and gave him the “courage” to commit suicide. His finger of blame should not be pointed at Amherst College.
May Trey Malone rest in peace.
For readers who’d like the facts about the relationship between sexual assault and alcohol consumption I highly recommend the .gov website College Drinking–Changing the Culture, created by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). For detailed information see: Alcohol-Related Sexual Assault: A Common Problem among College Students.