Thursday, September 07, 2006

Denise Denton, suicide as solution, suicide as sickness

I stumbled across a notice of a superior woman named Denise Denton, who jumped from a 42-story apartment building earlier this summer in an act of suicide.

Her story fascinates me. It sickens me. It makes me cry.

Denton was 46 years of age. She was a lesbian. She was a MIT graduate in electrical engineering. She was a relatively new chancellor of UC Santa Cruz. She mentored women and mentored mentors. She fought for social justice, for parity. She took heat from media over renovations to her university-home, and for the position secured for her partner at USCS.

She jumped from the rooftop of a 42-story building. Her partner had an apartment in that building and Denton's mother was in the building at the time of her jump. She said her daughter was "very depressed about her personal and professional life."

UCSC held a memorial for Denton (saved on video) and hosts a website to honor her.

What strikes me in reading about Denton isn't her accomplishments, her passion, her outness, her personable smile, her brilliance. It's her depression. It's the knowledge that all of those attributes, as extraordinary as they were, cannot balance the scales when ignorance is on the other side.

The sickness of ignorance made that woman take her life. I can feel it in my gut. Intellectual superiority, leadership, collegial friendship and the benefits of position, none of that kept Denise Denton from jumping off a high rise.

What I want to know is why Denise Denton chose suicide. Was it the only available option to her? Did it present relief, a way out of constant harassment? Was she so disturbed at her core that no other possibility existed?

I want to know why this woman of achievement, this out lesbian on the West Coast, this university chancellor decided suicide was best. Was it futility? The statistical recognition of impossibility?

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