Thu, Jan 25, 2007 - Page 2 News List

Suicide prompts debate on off-campus housing

FOR JUSTICE No matter what led Yang Chao-ning to end her life, lawmakers say that there is an urgent need to deal with the student accommodation problem

By Max Hirsch  /  STAFF REPORTER

National Dong Hwa University graduate student Yang Chao-ning (楊超甯), 25, seemed to have it all: good looks, smarts and plenty of friends.

So when her classmates discovered her hanging by a rope two weeks ago, they were at a loss to imagine what could have driven the "campus flower" to end her life.

Yang's suicide note pointed at a simple, albeit chilling, answer: a villainous landlord.

While speculation deepens over whether Yang killed herself due to a Hualien landlord's allegedly vicious conduct, or years of depression, her death has sparked a debate on whether schools pay enough attention to students living off campus.

For lawmakers and students, universities nationwide are ill-equipped to handle student accommodation and they're fed up.

"This isn't just about suicide," Taiwan Solidarity Union Legislator Lai Shin-yuan (賴幸媛) said yesterday at a press conference calling on the government to more actively address the issue.

"This is part of a larger problem of off-campus housing," she added.

Lai said Yang was never actually a tenant of the allegedly unethical landlord, but had panned him in a blog for demanding unfair contract terms from classmates.

On Jan. 14, Yang hanged herself in an act of protest against the landlord following his threat to sue her for libel unless she publicly apologized for her blog entries, Lai said.

"I will never kowtow to that rotten landlord," Yang reportedly wrote in her suicide note.

Yang's father said at the conference that his daughter killed herself "for justice," adding that she had defied the landlord on behalf of her classmates.

Lai, however, confirmed reports that Yang had been battling depression and had been cutting classes prior to her death.

The landlord, meanwhile, reportedly denied ever meeting Yang, saying that all he had wanted was an apology.

Panelists yesterday, including Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Hung Hsiu-chu (洪秀柱) and education officials, refused to speculate on Yang's motivation for taking her own life, focusing instead on the larger problem of accommodation.

A press release said that universities nationwide lacked housing officials, with ratios of one official fielding off-campus housing for every one thousand to ten thousand students.

Lawmakers urged the Ministry of Education to post more such personnel at schools and to act quickly when spats arise between landlords and students.

Ministry officials said the government was actively pursuing various options.

Ministry statistics showed that universities can only house 250,000 graduate students on campus, while the nation's number of such students total 470,000.

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