Light & Verity

First-year student dies in suicide

Her death puts renewed focus on mental health resources at Yale.

Rachael Shaw-Rosenbaum ’24, who died in March, was “unapologetically herself.” View full image

The Yale community and friends and family of first-year Rachael Shaw-Rosenbaum ’24 mourned her death by suicide in March. Shaw-Rosenbaum, a student in Branford College from Anchorage, Alaska, was remembered for her passion for justice: she was an ardent debater who wanted to study constitutional law and eventually end up on the Supreme Court.  

At Yale, where she was in the Directed Studies program, she had already made an impression. “Yale has no shortage of intelligence, but Rachael was genuinely the most brilliant person I’ve ever met,” classmate Victoria Chung ’24 told the Yale Daily News. “What struck me the most about her was how she was unapologetically herself and her unrelenting passion for the things she loved.”

Shaw-Rosenbaum’s suicide heightened the ongoing discussion of mental health resources at Yale. The number of students seeking counseling at Yale Health has risen sharply in recent years, and students have lobbied for more options to reduce wait times. In April, Yale announced the creation of 14 new full-time counseling positions, including 8 with offices in or near residential colleges.

The university took the unusual step of publicly refuting a social media post claiming that Shaw-Rosenbaum had asked to leave Yale and enter a mental health facility but had been told she would have to reapply. “Rachael did not ask her dean, or any other administrator in the College or Yale Health, if she could spend time away from Yale,” the university wrote in a statement. “Yale College would never deny anyone permission to take time off to address a health concern; anyone who asks for that permission receives it.”

Some alumni and students sharply criticized Yale’s withdrawal policy. It requires students who withdraw to earn two college credits during their time away and, when they’re ready, to submit to an interview with a reinstatement committee (and with Yale Health, in some cases). Alternatively, students in good academic standing may take a one- or two-term leave of absence at the end of a term, with no requirements for returning. It is unclear whether Shaw-Rosenbaum investigated these options.

However short, Shaw-Rosenbaum’s life meant much to those who knew her. “Rachael taught me so much about strength, resilience, and being yourself,” her high school debate partner Olivia Tafs told the News, “and I know I’m a better person for having met her.”   

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