The Sunday Read: ‘The unthinkable mental health crisis that rocked a New England university’

Adriana Hurst and

Rowan Niemisto and

The first death occurred before the academic year began. In July 2021, the death of a Worcester Polytechnic Institute undergraduate student was reported. The administration sent an email notice, with the familiar, carefully vetted wording and resources attached. Katherine Foo, an assistant professor in the department of integrative and global studies, was especially devastated by the news. She taught this student. He was Chinese and she felt connected to the particular set of pressures he faced. She read old, anonymous course evaluations, looking for any signs she might have missed. But she wasn’t sure where to put her personal feelings about a loss suffered in this professional context.

The week before the academic year began, a second student died. A senior student in the computer science department who loved horticulture took his own life. This brought a hint of disaster. The suicide of a student is a tragedy; two could be the start of a group. Some teachers began to feel a little afraid when they entered the campus.

Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts is a tidy New England college campus with the cluttered landscape typical of well-funded institutions. The hedges are beautifully trimmed and the paths clean. Red brick buildings from the 19th century coexist with tall glass facades and renovated interiors. But over a six-month period, the school was disrupted by a series of suicides.

There are many ways to listen to ‘The Daily’. That is how.

We want to hear from you. Tune in and tell us what you think. Email us at Follow Michael Barbaro on X: @mikiebarb. And if you’re interested in advertising in The Daily, write to us at

Additional production on The Sunday Read was provided by Isabella Anderson, Anna Diamond, Sarah Diamond, Elena Hecht, Emma Kehlbeck, Tanya Pérez and Krish Seenivasan.