UPenn Credit: Picasa 2.0

Yesterday, the parents of 20-year-old University of Pennsylvania student Timothy Hamlett posted “with heavy, heavy hearts” on Facebook that their son had taken his own life. Medical examiners ruled the Penn student’s death “suicide by drowning.”

The budding track star, who once dreamed of running in the Olympics before taking a medical leave from the school, is the seventh Penn student to commit suicide in the last two years, putting the school’s rate of suicide about five times the average rate for college students. Two of those students were also members of the track team.

A little more than a year ago, Hamlett was an athlete trying to make the switch from the 400 meter run to the 800. The Daily Pennsylvanian ran his photo alongside now-New Jersey U.S. Sen. Cory Booker. After an injury followed several standout performances, his parents have said, Hamlett began taking supplements and male enhancement pills, and his demeanor turned from outgoing to moody. He disappeared the day after Christmas, saying he was going to visit a friend in New York City.

Hamlett had reportedly been taking herbal supplements such as Pygeum, Cordyceps and Ginseng Panax, as well as male enhancement drugs Big Jim, Vitalikor Male Enhancement and Twins Male Enhancement Huge Penis Enlargement. Those pills can act as stimulants. When Hamlett underwent an MRI for a brain cyst, the results came back inconclusive.

Hamlett had taken a leave from Penn last fall after being charged with criminal mischief in September for allegedly throwing bricks through several houses near his home in Teaneck, N.J., last May. His father, Archibald Hamlett, told The Daily Beast in February Hamlett’s success in track and his transition to the longer distance of the 800 created a pressured environment from the team’s coach.

“He looked at Timothy as a prodigy and was expecting a lot out of him,” the father said. “And he was expecting a lot out of himself. That’s why he changed from the 400 to the 800. That’s a lot of pressure.”

Penn has been criticized during the last two years for creating a high-stakes environment that placed a greater value on achievement than student well-being. In response to national outcry against the school, Penn commissioned a 10-person task force and, after a year, came away with an eight-page report that left student activists feeling far from encouraged. The most tangible takeaways from that report were a website and a flier for faculty.

“I was expecting there to be data and numbers and a definitive way forward, and it isn’t there, and I actually think that they have truly skirted the real issue,” student Elana Stern told Billy Penn. “It’s insulting to Penn students to say, ‘just stop being such perfectionists.’ Well, that’s what’s rewarded here.”

In May, a Penn student newspaper reporter revealed in her senior column that the Penn administration asked the paper, The Daily Pennsylvanian, to tone down their coverage of the suicides. 

These are the Penn students who have taken their lives since August 2013:

  • Wendy Shung, 24, died in August 2013
  • Madison Holleran, 18, died in January 2014
  • Elvis Hatcher, 18, died in February 2014
  • Alice Wiley, 26, died over winter break in 2014
  • Theodric Reed, 22, died in September 2014
  • Amanda Hu, 20, died in September 2014
  • Timothy Hamlett, 20, body found May 2015

Mark Dent is a reporter/curator at BillyPenn. He previously worked for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where he covered the Jerry Sandusky scandal, Penn State football and the Penn State administration. His...