His efforts are equally tireless now as he and Mary struggle to understand why their son died, trying to make some sense of it. They may never get any peace about their son's death, but they may change things to help keep other university students from killing themselves.
That's their quest, and they may, in fact, be making a difference — and not just within UC. Mary had comments read to the to the Palo Alto school board last week (she had a meeting conflict) and Vic talked to the Foothill-DeAnza Community College District board in March, both about student stress. He said students gave him an ovation.
They seem to have shaken things up at the huge UC system, with the help of a UC Davis student who is the student member of the Board of Regents.
Adam Rosenthal, a third-year law student, said he "had heard from several people on many campuses that mental health services were swamped and students had to wait several weeks to see a therapist. Clearly, it was an issue to be concerned about."
Rosenthal asked UC President Robert C. Dynes to convene a committee to examine the problem. But nothing happened until Vic Ojakian made an emotional presentation to the UC Board of Regents last Sept. 21.
Even then, things moved slowly.
Ojakian called UC in January to ask what was happening.
He was told the committee was an internal group meeting behind closed doors. He and Mary were then invited to speak to the committee on April 24.
The members seemed interested in what he and Mary had to say and most thanked them afterward.
"People have a right to know what's going on and you can't solve a problem until you know what it is," Vic said.
"There are a whole lot of things not being done right,and here's some things that could be done," he said he told the committee.
The committee is scheduled to produce a report on student depression and suicide this fall.
Student suicides are a painful subject for colleges. Because of the stigma of a suicide, many families wish the death to be declared something other than a suicide. Or universities are reluctant to list some deaths as suicides.
Vic did a Freedom of Information request to the UC system to get data on student suicides. "The documents show fewer suicides than we know occurred, as confirmed by the coroners' offices," he said.
He is also trying to change how UC campuses react to student suicides. "Many universities have a post-incident team that goes out and talks with people affected," he said. "UC Davis did nothing."
In fact, he may helped some of Adam's friends by contacting them, soliciting their feelings and sharing his own sense of loss.
Noting that Adam was a successful Palo Alto High School student, Ojakian also worries about what happens to other students from Paly and Gunn when they go off to college and have a rough time academically.
"The danger for Paly and Gunn kids is they may regard themselves as a failure, like it's their fault," he said. "They may have support here and don't in college, and it's a shock to them."
Vic and Mary are working at every level they can, trying to get people to listen. Their ultimate target, though, is still the UC system.
"I'm on a mission worth doing," Vic said. "Frankly, we're up against a leviathan, but we're not going to quit. We'll keep coming at it from as many angles as we can, so we can save lives."
This story contains 636 words.
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