Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Page 51: The Suicide Rule

Jan Harold Brunvand (2001) calls this “more a rumor than a legend proper” (426), but call it what you will: there is widespread belief on university campuses in the rule that “If your roommate commits suicide, you get an automatic A (or a 4.0 GPA) for the semester.” In this sense, it’s similar to common campus rumors such as the “15 minute rule,” which says that if the professor is 15 minutes late, then class is cancelled. The Suicide Rule reflects anxiety about grades and the policy is often attributed to highly exclusive universities where the costs and pressures are perceived to be astronomical.

A 1985 study by Fox found that belief in the suicide rule was very common across campuses, but—like most urban legends—the details varied according to the qualifying conditions and the nature of the condolence compensation (e.g., an upgraded dorm room or getting to take the rest of the semester off). While universities may provide bereavement counseling or other services for students whose roommate has committed suicide, there is in fact no suicide rule anywhere concerning one’s GPA or dorm room.

Although this relatively modern rumor that emerged in the mid-1970s, its popularity has resulted in Hollywood turning it into not one, but two wittily-titled 1998 movies, Dead Man on Campus and Dead Man’s Curve.

Dead Man on Campus (dir. Alan Cohn, Paramount Pictures) and Dead Man's Curve (a.k.a. The Curve, dir. Dan Rosen, Mount Royal Entertainment) are both inspired by the urban legend of the Suicide Rule.
Also, the Breaking Bad episode “No Más” (Season 3, Episode 1) features a scene where students are gathered in the gymnasium after a tragedy and one student, Barry, says
I just find it, y'know, really, really hard to concentrate because of all the horrors, y' know, we perceived. It just really gets inside your brain and, college they have this thing where if your roommate kills himself, like if you come home and find him hanging in the closet or whatever, it's basically an automatic A for you.

The Billionth Monkey offers versions of two of these rumors: the automatic A, and the upgraded dorm room.

For Further Reading

Anonymous. “Grade Expectations.”, June 9, 2011.

Jan Harold Brunvand. Curses! Broiled Again! New York: W. W. Norton, 1989, 295–8.

Jan Harold Brunvand. Encyclopedia of Urban Legends. New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2001, 426.

William S. Fox. “The Roommate’s Suicide and the 4.0.” In Gillian Bennett and Paul Smith (eds.), A Nest of Vipers. Sheffield: University of Sheffield Press, 1990, 69–76.

Leo Reisberg. “Hollywood Discovers an Apocryphal Legend.” Chronicle of Higher Education, September 11, 1998.

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