22 year old Sydney Monfries was just a month from her graduation from Fordham University in New York, when she and some friends decided to make the forbidden climb up the bell tower that overlooks Fordham’s Rose Hill campus. It was a rite of passage for many students at Fordham University to ascend the steep, spiral stairs and look out over the Bronx, often while drinking alcohol, who reportedly would steal up the stairs in the wee hours of the morning. Sadly, that forbidden climb up the tower in Keating Hall would be Sydney’s last mistake. She fell through an opening in a landing and plummeted to the ground, where she was seriously injured. Police found her unconscious at about 3:00am. Monfries was rushed to St. Barnabas Hospital, where she died Sunday evening.
I read Sydney Monfries’ tragic story in The New York Times this morning while enjoying a bowl of ripe berries and fresh coffee prepared for me by my loving husband and safety geek, Bill. I was telling him about Monfries’ decision to trespass in the bell tower, which led to her death. Then, I read the comments. As usual, they were interesting.
The first one I read was something along the lines of “play stupid games, win stupid prizes.” After a few wholly sympathetic comments, someone left this one: “It’s hard to feel bad for someone who needed a better view of NYC for an Instagram photo.
Stupidity has its harsh rewards.”
Naturally, that comment, while technically correct, provoked a number of angry responses. The author of the “insensitive” comment was defensive. An interesting discussion ensued.
Sydney Monfries was a beautiful young woman, full of promise and clearly not lacking in loved ones. She had her whole life ahead of her, and it looked like it was slated to be a good one. Unfortunately, she made a grave mistake and it cost her her life. Does this mean that her grieving loved ones don’t deserve compassion? I don’t think so. I’m sure that Ms. Monfries has many friends and family members who are absolutely horrified and devastated by her sudden departure. Monfries and her friends made an error in judgment. People do that. Even the smartest people mess up sometimes. I’m sure they were all just looking for a wonderful time and a story they could pass to their grandchildren someday.
On the other hand, I can sort of see the point of those who are saying things like “play stupid games, win stupid prizes.” I wouldn’t put it that way myself, but the way I see it, climbing the tower, when it’s clear that the tower is off limits, was a foolish thing to do. It’s not unlike walking along railroad tracks or trying to do unauthorized photo shoots in dangerous places. Sometimes, you are rewarded with stunning pictures and memorable stories. Sometimes, you wind up seriously injured or killed. Sydney Monfries took a risk that cost her her life. I only hope people pay attention and learn from it… and perhaps Fordham University does more to make sure other students don’t try the same thing, even if it is a rite of passage. Obviously, it’s not safe. Sydney Monfries has proven it.
Sydney Monfries no longer cares about what people will say or think about her. She’s gone now. The people who need comfort are those who are left behind. I do hope they refrain from reading the comments on news articles or social media. I even hope they don’t read this blog post if it will cause them more pain.
A 2013 article in the Fordam Ram, Fordham University’s newspaper, explains the allure of the forbidden tower, which is usually locked. When the door to the tower is left slightly ajar, it tempts daring students who want to have this ultimate, epic experience afforded to few people. I think, even in the wake of this horrible accident, university officials are going to have to be vigilant. People are always tempted by forbidden fruit. Fordham also has “forbidden tunnels” that students have tried to access with varying degrees of success. The tunnels, no doubt like the tower, are off limits for insurance reasons. Supposedly, getting caught in either place leads to expulsion if you’re lucky, death if you’re not.
One thing I’ve noticed and appreciated in Europe is that most people are expected to have good sense. There are fewer barriers here. A few years ago, Bill and I visited the Starkenberger beer pool in Austria, where, for five hours, we were allowed to rent a former fermenting vat filled with hot beer wort. We were turned loose, with no one supervising us as we swam in the beery water, completely naked with access to all the beer we wanted. There was water and alcohol involved, but we had no minders or lifeguards on duty. It was awesome, and we had a blast! That would never happen in the United States because the liability would be too much. I’m sure anyplace in the USA that tried to offer an unsupervised “beer pool” would never get insurance coverage. But it’s doable here. People are pretty “sue happy” over here, but common sense is still expected.
I can understand why people want to get an “amazing view” of campus, but there’s a reason why the tower is locked. Still, even the morning after that horrible accident, a young man and his father who were touring the campus were spotted tugging on the locked door of the tower. They had no doubt heard about Sydney Monfries’ accident, but they were still tempted by that tower. Some people just never get it.