Monday, June 26, 2006

Denice Denton

I didn't know Denice Denton.

I knew who she was (the Chancellor of the University of California, Santa Cruz), followed all the escandalo at UCSC and am completely horrified that she threw herself out the window of a 44 story building. She was 46 years old.

This can't be an obituary, obviously. I just wanted to write down some thoughts that would never go on the web page UC set up for condolences. As I looked at those writings today, I thought there was more to this woman's life than the dry remarks abouts "loss" wrtten by some PR hacks.

Here is what I know - she was an out lesbian, an outstanding women in the sciences, a graduate of MIT with multiple degrees and she lept from the apartment building where her girlfriend lived. Her mother was supposedly in the appartment when she jumped. Oh yes, it was Pride weekend in the City too.

So how's that for a fuck you?

Her girlfriend was in DC, according to the papers. Her mother said she was depressed over personal and professional issues. So why jump, why not just quit? If you hate your job and perhaps your job hates you, why stay? Why to all of this?

Why did the UC system fail this woman so completely, to the point of cruelty? Things had gone wrong for her since before she walked into her office - bad press, irritated residents in Santa Cruz, unhappy students. So why did UC continue to act like Sergeant Schultz "I see nothing." If they are doing to this to the people are the top of the food, what on earth are students getting? Alone? Isolated? Obviously in pain and very, very angry.

So fuck you, I'm jumping.

There is now a scar at that campus.

Who in the hell would want that job now, too. "Oh yeah, your predecessor killed herself but good luck, we know you'll do great. Just don't depend on us to help, even when it is our REALLY big mistake."

She lived in a house on campus. She asked for and received a huge remodel to this house. Things including a $30,000 dog run and a sub-zero refrigerator. She asked, they gave it. But in Santa Cruz and in the state, it didn't play well. Like it played really, really badly.

I remember reading this and thinking, "Good Lord, that certainly sounds extravagant." But she asked and, like the apparently indulgent parent that the UC system is, they gave it to her. But then when this all hit the press, the UC system abandoned her, left her hanging out with sub zero support. No PR people, no infrastructure support, nada.

And what about a very smart woman who has access to every medical avenue possible. What did Denice Denton do? Where were the colleagues, the girlfriends to talk to, have dinner with, the girls network? Did she not have one? What pain and isolation she must have lived with.

It is a long road from dean of an engineering school to the chancellor of a UC campus. Santa Cruz is a unique campus with very unique people going to school there. There are students living in the queer dorm, the Chicano dorm and whatever other specialized living situation they have up there. She was brought to campus to expand the sciences and engineering but trust me there are a lot of other types besides those science and engineering students on that campus.

She had no experience in land use politics and there was constant struggle. Now there is a ballot measure in Santa Cruz this year to stop the campus from expanding unless they pay for their share of the infrastructure expansion (little things like water and sewage). This is not how to play well with the neighbors.

Mental illness can be a fatal disease (I thank Sarahope for that gem).

Maybe if we stop being so judgmental of each other, take a breath before unleashing the criticism of someone in leadership (George Bush is the exception), and just accept that we all make mistakes we can get more done and shift our world just a teensie bit.

I have been unemployed for seven weeks now. I have had to make major adjustments in life, the worst of which is the struggle to get the meds I need. We have fucked up systems for people to grapple with just to take care of themselves. But this was a woman with access to every resource known to womankind. So why jump? Why not just quit the job?

Will we ever know?

This isn't just a tragedy, it is a big fucking tragedy. For the campus, for the community, for queers, for women, for the world. This woman was savaged by a fucked up system, her own demons and who knows what else.

All I know is that the woman had her own demons and the demons won. And now all those around her will have to live with those demons for the rest of their lives.


Tom Graves said...

Jumping from the building is extremely personal, IMO. And don't forget the timing - during Pride weekend. Perhaps not, but I think that had something to do with it as well.

And then there's Robert Dynes' letter to the campus community. I don't recall ever reading a letter from a public official so out of touch with the public. She got zero support from him all the while she was being pilloried in the press, and ironically she still gets no support from him after her death. The letter should be enshrined as a warning, as a caution on how not to deal with a bad situation. Astonishing, really.

Deb said...

Thanks for your comments. It's good to read thoughts that are not the officially published and reported story. Her pain must have been overwhelming in a 'no way out' kind of way.deb

Jeremy said...

I hope all of the people, who directed , such personal venom towards her, will think about the situation, and begin to direct their venom, about unjust systems, at the systems, and not at the people, who sometimes, ingorantly and inadvertantly, work and live in them.

Julie R. Enszer said...

I just got back and heard about this and it seems so tragic and suicide is always so selfish and hurtful.

I have to go and read more about it - and we have to catch up soon!


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