The summer of 2019 brought Sonoma State University many things--a record heatwave, fire warnings, and the filming of 13 Reasons Why on campus. The controversial but ever-popular show transformed SSU into Sanderson University, with no Lobo or Bismarck in sight. Though students were excited to see their school on their laptop screens, many were frustrated and confused as to why SSU was chosen as the location of filming.
13 Reasons Why is a show following Clay, a teen, who finds explanations of why his classmate Hannah committed suicide. The series is based on a novel that was just as graphic and glorifying as the show. Even with trigger warnings and some now deleted scenes, the series still involves graphic depictions of suicide, self harm and rape. Many incidences of teenage suicide were noted to be inspired by the series, however scenes were only recently deleted, after years of being seen and accesible for anyone with a Netflix account.
According to CNN, the rates of suicide among young males went up nearly 29% in the month after the show premiered. 13 Reasons Why is notable for its romanticization of depression and self harm. Some critics say it’s an important show to have since it talks about tough issues while others note that the series does nothing to actually inform watchers of the warning signs, what to do if a friend is suicidal and so forth. Along with this 13 Reasons Why suggests that suicide is a solution to a temporary issue, can be used as revenge on bullies, or that the act should be blamed on others, when mental illness is the cause of suicide and self harm. Showing these scenes and this storyline will only lead to young people in a bad mindset to perhaps copy what Hannah did-- whether that be for revenge, out of impulse or to blame others.
FOX reports that two families of young females who committed suicide blamed 13 Reasons Why for its triggering and upsetting scenes. Peter Chiu, an uncle of one of the females, told Fox reporters, “I feel it’s dangerous for that small percentage of young adults...the show gives only one alternative for cyber bullying and other teenage issues.”
Sonoma State has been known for its small and inviting campus, but that doesn’t mean that the school provides a high standard of mental health care in many students’ eyes. With previous issues regarding the lack of funding for CAPS and giving students a limited amount of therapy space or time, filming this show here can almost feel like a slap in the face.
The transformation of the school left many students questioning why SSU was using their $30,000 dollars in filming funds to power wash bacon and eggs rather than put it towards improving CAPS. Some even thought that Sonoma was forgetting its morals and ethics in regards to such a distressing show for the money and exposure. A new sign has been spotted on campus, buildings are spotless and freshly painted--but these things only happened because of the filming, not just because SSU wants to improve its look and cleanliness for its own students. The university said, according to the Press Democrat, “it will put the funds toward educational programs — particularly around issues like suicide and school shootings.”
Educational programs are great for awareness and bringing light to situations others might be going through--but education isn’t going to give someone with a mental health issue ways to heal or cope. Allowing a TV show that romantizes depression and self harm on campus may remind the 1 in 5 students that contemplate suicide because of school stress in the US that SSU may not be as ethical as it seems.