From September 14-15, Wesleyan will host its annual Shasha Seminar for Human Concerns. This year’s event, titled “Suicide and Resilience: Finding the Words,” will focus on victims of suicide and the families and friends of those affected. The seminar costs $25 for students and faculty and $125 for alumni, parents, and Wesleyan friends.
The two-day event is designed to give members of the Wesleyan community the opportunity to learn about and discuss significant global issues through a program of seminars and talks. The event has been made possible by a donation from James Shasha ’50, P’82 twenty years ago, and Wesleyan has hosted 17 seminars since. Past seminars have focused on topics ranging from guns in American society, mass incarceration, to social entrepreneurship.
Director of Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) Dr. Jennifer D’Andrea and Professor of Psychology Karl Scheibe are serving as co-directors of the event. In an email to the Argus, Scheibe described how this year’s topic came to be.
“This year’s topic grew out of a longstanding interest in suicide articulated by Leslie Shasha [’82], who is a practicing clinical psychologist,” he wrote. “The Office of Academic Affairs has the responsibility of choosing the topics for the Shasha Seminar, and settled a couple of years ago on suicide as the focus of the 2018 program…Over the last two years, we have selected program participants and have designed the program.”
This year’s program includes discussions, panels, film screenings, and several presentations given by speakers who have lost a loved ones to suicide. Two events in the program, “Suicide Risk in the U.S.: Who’s Most Vulnerable and Why?” and “What Do We Know? Current Research and Directions to the Future,” explore research on suicide and suicide prevention. Professor Scheibe commented on how current research and findings are replacing damaging misconceptions of suicide.
“Vast efforts have been underway for years among researchers in the social and behavioral sciences to advance our collective knowledge of suicide,” he wrote. “This knowledge allows the replacement of myths by substantial empirical findings. This conference will allow the Wesleyan community to have first-hand contact with the most recent findings in the field.”
He also highlighted the seminar’s goal of promoting healthy discussions of suicide and its presence on college campuses.
“Some suicides have occurred at Wesleyan over the years, but not in a way that sets it apart from other schools,” he wrote. “Our effort to examine this problem here is not reactive but prospective. That is, our hope is that an improved understanding of what is known about suicide might be part of larger constructive efforts at Wesleyan to advance life-supportive attitudes and actions within our community.”
In an email to the Argus, D’Andrea also wrote of her hopes for the event and the support that she and Scheibe can provide to attendees during the event, which runs from Friday afternoon to Saturday afternoon.
“Throughout the weekend, I will be available to speak privately with any participant who feels distressed and in need of support,” she wrote. “Professor Scheibe and I hope attendees will learn more about this issue which affects the lives of so many people, and we hope they will feel inspired by our presenters to go back out into their own lives and continue to speak about suicide loss – to find the words.”
The final program of the weekend, a panel titled “Suicide Awareness and Prevention at Wesleyan,” will be a presentation given by speakers from CAPS and the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life discussing how Wesleyan approaches the issue of suicide.
In his email, Scheibe wrote about how this year’s seminar will further James Shasha’s mission in endowing this event and the service it will provide to the Wesleyan community.
“As a former Wesleyan student, James Shasha wanted to give us programs that would enhance the lives of those in the Wesleyan Community by generating informed and sympathetic discussions of a range of human concerns,” he wrote. “Certainly the decision to end one’s life is a human concern. The evidence is all around us that this topic can by mystifying and troubling. Our hope is that the conference we present will succeed in reducing the mystery and diminish the troubles.”
William Halliday can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org